What was the fascination of this production that brought the author of this review near to tears at its final curtain call? I use the term ‘curtain call’ metaphorically as the stage was promenaded through one of the most picturesque arenas in the Merthyr Valley, Cyfarthfa Park. Was it this environment that worked its magic to send me into raptures of delight? I think not as Shakespeare himself mused “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”
Was it the greatness of the Bard’s writings that moved me to distraction? Is that likely of someone so old as to be termed a third age critic? Indeed Shakespeare himself has been around for centuries so if you don’t know the stories by now you might just be from another planet.
However for those who do not know the story of As You Like It or need reminding here is a synopsis provided by the Globe Theatre:
“As You Like It is one of the great comedy plays by William Shakespeare. The heroine, Rosalind, is one of his most inspiring characters and has more lines than any of Shakespeare's female characters. Rosalind, the daughter of a banished duke falls in love with Orlando the disinherited son of one of the duke's friends. When she is banished from the court by her usurping uncle, Duke Frederick, Rosalind takes on the appearance of a boy calling herself Ganymede. She travels with her cousin Celia and the jester Touchstone to the Forest of Arden, where her father and his friends live in exile. Themes about life and love, including aging, the natural world, and death are included in the play. New friends are made and families are reunited. By the end of the play…………………………..WAIT that’s enough you don’t want to spoil it for everyone suffice it to say that the play features a great soliloquy by William Shakespeare which begins:
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..."
Shakespeare plays are not so much about the story but more about how they are acted out, as Leslie Norris explained in his poem Cyfarthfa Morning it’s about:
‘These things I saw
from a bench by the mock castle
where the cannons were stopped
and children clambered –‘
The things I saw (and heard) were a delight from start to finish.
It all began with a fairground scene around the bandstand. The colours on display were vivid and inviting and everyone was having a good time. The displacement of a coconut from the shy by a nonchalant and much pleased local was the sign for the play to begin with a rousing tuneful dispatch of some of Shakespeare’s favourite characters.
Alison Halstead played the lead role of Rosalind (and Ganymede with the help of some neat cross-dressing). As mentioned earlier she has more lines than any of Shakespeare's female characters. Halstead’s performance was energetic but, at the same time, delightful truly representing the demands of the character she was portraying. The degree of difficulty attaching to her role was more than matched by an excellent performance.
Connor Allen who played Orlando, the hero and the lover of Rosalind has the look and stage-presence that one could be forgiven for thinking he worked in Valco and his name was Leighton. Although he doesn’t measure up to Rosalind’s wit and poetry he is her perfect match, at least when Rosalind has her feet off the ground. Here Orlando is seen grappling with his brother Oliver (Aled Herbert).
Herbert, who also plays the part of Silvius, a young suffering shepherd, gives everything, going from zero as Orlando’s hateful brother to hero and becoming a better more loving person after Orlando saves his life. Curiously his performance is made all the more enjoyable by his heavily affected valleys accent.
His transformation is evidenced by his love for Aliena, the not too heavily disguised Celia.
Lizzie Rogan brings all of Celia’s characteristics to the fore with remarkable impact. Eye-catching in appearance and actions that are reminiscent of some of the best comedic actresses, she plays out the role with a loving heart mixed with a cocktail of excessive emotions.
It was good to see Chloe Clarke produce yet another great performance to follow on from her dual starring role with Amy Griggs in Hannah and Hanna. What was remarkable about this performance was the diversity of her talents that were on show.
William Fawcett, seen here as her ‘sidekick’, also had the role of Charles the Wrestler. His wrestling routine in slow motion, with commentary and the aftermath of his fight with Orlando had the audience in ‘stitches’ but not without some sympathy being shown for his injuries. He also showed the audience he was a talented musician.
Samuel Bees played Amiens but it was his role of Touchstone in which he excelled as the vulgar and narrow-minded clown. He is complemented by Audrey (Josephine Wilson) a simple minded goatherd. She was worryingly seductive and had the most unusual laugh arguably somewhat reminiscent of Marlene in Only Fool and Horses.
Ben Owen-Jones, seen here on the right, played the parts of Duke Senior and Duke Frederick. Senior is a kind and fair-minded ruler whereas Frederick is cruel and has a volatile temper. Both extremes of temperament were convincingly performed.
Special praise must go to Sami Thorpe. Not only did she ‘sign’ the whole performance from start to finish but she also provided a human prop and wherever appropriate an extra to the main cast. Her roles in particular must have been extremely demanding and exhausting.
This was an extra-special performance by an extra-special cast, but it owed equal measure for its success to an excellent Creative Team of which the Director, Elise Davison and the producer Beth House can be proud off. The costumes were of the age and magnificent and the music and songs were cleverly ‘orchestrated’ and appealing to young and old. The support team played a vital part in keeping the promenade on course and the audience participated wherever necessary with keenness and appreciation.
YES - ALL THE WORLD IS A STAGE AND LONG MAY IT CONTINUE!
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