As You Like It is real enough, appearing at The Playhouse September 4 – 13, 2003. The Bell Shakespeare Company brings us director Lindy Davies
As ... You ... Like ... It. Just think about it. What sort of "it" do you like? How would you like it? Who would you like it with? How would you like it to finish? Who asked you in the first place?
William Shakespeare did just about 400 years ago.
He took what was then a modern 1590 novel, Rosalynde by Thomas Lodge, and posed the ultimate post-modern conundrum: truth is a matter of fact, but since facts have already happened and are therefore in the past, and the past is another country, facts are no more than stories we create which we believe to be true. Ergo, truth, when properly deconstructed, is fiction. As the very modern cynic Jaques says in Act 2: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players."
But As You Like It is real enough, appearing at The Playhouse September 4 - 13. The Bell Shakespeare Company brings us director Lindy Davies, whose credentials in theatre go back to the original Marvellous Melbourne at the Pram Factory where the new wave in Australian theatre is claimed (by Melburnians) to have begun. Along the way, mixed in among work in Australia, Britain and Russia, Davies taught Cate Blanchett at NIDA, telling Geoffrey Rush about this "astonishing young woman in her class", and nowadays is Head of Acting at the Victorian College of the Arts.
She brings with her another young woman star, Alice McConnell (Caitlin in MDA)to play Rosalind, as well as a young man who has played Euripedes in Xena, the Warrior Princess, Joe Manning, playing the love-lorn Orlando.
Lorn or not, Manning says the Lindy Davies technique of exploring "what the text does to us" has led him to find a boldness and purity in Orlando. He is on fire with love. The comedy, Manning says, is in the complex situations which grow from the characters' completely different perspectives. Sounds very post-modern indeed.
And you may remember Jennie Tate's wonderful set design and costumes for Bell's The Comedy of Errors last year. A close friend and colleague of Davies, Tate has gone this year into chandeliers, mirrors, crystals and jewels to create a "spectacular world of mystery and magic". As you will like it, without a doubt, while also being a sparkling symbol of see-through and reflection, of myriad perspectives, of shifting surfaces of understanding.
Having just finished working in television, returning to the stage for Alice McConnell makes her "feel like an absolute virgin", which suits the character of Rosalind very well. Letting the text reveal the character, as McConnell describes the Davies process, takes her to a Rosalind who follows the extremes of her instincts. In pretending to be a man, Ganymede, she finds absolute freedom as a woman. She flirts like mad, pushing her luck when she can see she is on to a good thing. While having such fun, she discovers an inner empowerment not merely as a woman but as a person, as an individual.
This production also brings Canberra's Patrick Brammall home for a visit. After Marist College, Free Rain Theatre, a year at the Actors' Centre in Sydney, and a lucky break getting late into VCA when someone else resigned, he worked for Bell Company's Actors at Work Education Team in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
Brammall plays William, the rustic lover of Audrey who is beaten to the altar by Touchstone's wit. Rather than accept poor William's sad fate, however, Brammall suggests the audience come prepared for his exit (Act V Scene 1) with placards to say that Touchstone is really a bounder, in fact just a clown. Audrey will regret her marriage to him, and William, though rather dim it is true, should have his place in the sun. And why not? Surely in Shakespeare's day the downtrodden in the pit would have stood up for poor William.
After all, as Lindy Davies says "The characters embark on a journey in which they discover the joy that love can bring and the virtues of loyalty and moral courage. They are empowered through standing up for their beliefs and by venturing into the unknown."
The other virtue Davies insists on is rigorous emotional and physical training of her actors. She praises Bell Shakespeare Company for supporting her approach and we can be assured of what she calls "virtuosity" in the performances we will see. Like top quality concert musicians, her actors become virtuosos who play their instruments - their bodies and brains - with consummate skill.
Consummation is, of course, what As You Like It is really about, with the celebration of 4 marriages in the final scene. Much witty word-play and flirting in the forest, skilfully acted, is great fun for us to watch. Australian actors are noted for their rough and tumble irreverence, in contrast to Americans' demand for intensity and Britons' focus on reverence for the art. Lindy Davies' early experience at the Pram Factory has combined with her later work training with Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowski to bring both the priest and the clown together, just as Shakespeare did in his plays.
Shakespeare's, of course, is the art the British are so reverent about. But, as the film Shakespeare in Love suggested, William enjoyed the moment, pushed the envelope, and sought consummation in interesting ways. More post-modern than you can poke a stick (or whatever) at. Let's just do it, As You Like It, with
As You Like It
Thursday September 4 to Saturday September 13 7.30pm
Matinee Sat September 6 1.30pm
Mon September 8 6.30pm
Bookings: Canberra Ticketing 6275 2700
Don't forget your placards for poor unconsummated William's exit.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
Return to Frank McKone'sHome Page