I had the great joy of going to see As You Like It on Thursday, 25th February 2016 at Thornden Hall.
Having experienced the wonders of Shakespeare’s best known tragedy, Hamlet, late in 2015, I was curious to find out how I was going to get on with one of the Bard of Avon’s comedies.
I would just add Janet Williams and I were glad to have a lift to Thornden Hall as the play coincided with a major event at Thornden School so parking was a nightmare on this occasion. This does not, to my mind, distract from the great idea of having a local facility putting on National Theatre Live productions but it may pay to check first if other events at the school are likely to cause problems parking and/or arrange for transport.
I loved As You Like It. As with Hamlet, the odd bits of Elizabethan English I couldn’t follow, I picked the meaning up via context and the actors’ performances.
The basic plot is that with her father the Duke banished, Rosalind and her cousin Celia leave their luxurious court lives and journey into the Forest of Arden disguised as men. Rosalind falls spectacularly in love but how can she reveal herself for who she is without endangering herself? The current Duke, who usurped her father, is hunting her down and has threatened to kill her.
Sounds simple but there are many subplots and the play is fast moving.
I really liked the feisty but loyal characters of Rosalind and Cecilia. And it is a feel good play, one of the Bard’s many comedies. I loved the fact the heroines clearly knew their own minds (as did Shakespeare’s royal patron!) and wanted love on their terms.
How radical was that in the Elizabethan era? We think nothing of it now but then… after all if Queen Elizabeth the First had married, even she would not have been able to do so for love alone.
The set design of this production was amazing, especially the Forest of Arden which used office furniture in a very imaginative way. It worked though. You really did get an impression of a forest, of being lost in amongst the clutter and desks which were “strung” together and hung down from the ceiling.
There were also chairs to represent branches and members of the cast would sit in these while another scene was being performed. I didn’t find this distracting. I just found it to be an interesting use of furniture (and the limited amount of space there necessarily is on a stage!).
Shakespeare wrote As You Like It in 1599 and it appeared in his First Folio in 1623 though it was in 1600 the play was registered with the Stationer’s Company with instructions the play was not to be published to prevent unauthorised copies (and productions) of the play.
So authors worrying about copyright protection and ensuring their work is not ruined by cheap copies is nothing new! If the Bard of Avon worried about it, I think other authors can take some comfort in knowing he had a point!
As You Like It is thought to have been first performed between 1599 and 1600. There are 37 plays in the First Folio with 17 being published in Shakespeare’s lifetime. His fellow actors and friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell, edited the First Folio and supervised the printing.
We see Shakespeare’s work as being divided into comedies, tragedies and histories, thanks to them organising his work in this way. And it is interesting to see that 17 of the plays are comedies, meaning Shakespeare wrote more of these than any other type of play. I assume from that he knew what his audience wanted!
Nobody can be absolutely certain in which order Shakespeare wrote his plays. Nobody kept record of production dates but the website Shakespeare Online suggests that allusions in the plays themselves to historical events (as we now know them, they would have been current affairs in his time) are one way of working out an order of production.
As You Like It was thought to have been one of three of his plays performed around 1599-1600 along with Julius Caesar and Twelfth Night. As You Like It was amongst the first plays to be staged at The Globe, which was built by the Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s own acting company).
One of the Bard’s most famous quotes, concerning the Seven Ages of Man, comes from this play.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
As true now as it ever was!
But it is also true that “the play is the thing”.
The cars may be modern but the house definitely isn’t. I find it encouraging that it is possible to revisit at least some of Shakespeare’s world by literally going to places like The Globe and/or Stratford-upon-Avon but I think it can be argued you do this whenever you listen, watch or read one of his wonderful plays.
If you get a chance to see As You Like It, I’d highly recommend it.
Related posts: Here is a series of my blog posts about Thornden Hall, the theatre (reviews and news of new productions in our area) and Shakespeare productions.
- Producing a Local Legend: Sir Bevis of Hampton
- National Theatre Live in Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh Areas
- Shakespeare Inspirations – Hamlet at Thornden Hall
- Review: The Importance of Being Earnest at Thornden Hall
- Review: Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
- High Jinks at the Hiltingbury Extravaganza 2015
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