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Lakespeare’s best show, as you’d like it

Jake Fryer-Hornsby as Orlando with Natasha Vickery as Rosalind in “As You Like It”. Photo Tony Knight

Theatre / “As You Like It”, Lakespeare. At various locations until Sunday, March 6. Reviewed by JOHN LOMBARD.

SINCE 2018, Lakespeare has enriched Canberra’s cultural life with free Shakespeare in open spaces, a noble mission undercut by inconsistent quality, eccentric creative choices and tech wobbles.

Under director Tony Knight, Lakespeare delivers its best show yet with “As You Like It”, a polished and joyful realisation of one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies.

Likeable himbo Orlando (Jake Fryer-Hornsby) flees his murderous brother Oliver (Andrew Macmillan) to the Eden-like forest of Arden, where a gaggle of displaced city folk “fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world”.

Orlando’s crush Rosalind (Natasha Vickery) is also hiding in the forest. Disguised as the boy Ganymede, she coaxes the oblivious Orlando into a transgressive romantic game to trial his love.

Director Knight, drawing on considerable experience as head of acting at NIDA, kept the pace fast and energy high without losing clarity. Although “As You Like It” is dense with obscure references, especially in the quips of the scholarly clown Touchstone (Shae Kelly), Knight’s direction conveyed the script’s meaning through excellent selection of physical actions.

The cast uniformly had vigour, charisma and control. Jake Fryer-Hornsby and Natasha Vickery were excellent in the lead roles and believable as lovers.

Andrew Macmillan played his character’s transformation with panache, and Ylaria Rogers was feisty as Rosalind’s zealous playmate Celia.

Karen Vickery was commanding as Jaques, captivating the audience in the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech. Max Gambale brought buckets of personality and humour to several quirky cameo parts, including a rockstar turn as the God of Marriage.

Plain staging worked to the production’s advantage, with the lavish greenery of Tuggeranong Town Park a perfect stand-in for the forest of Arden. Costumes were also simple, but had character and enabled athletic movement.

“As You Like It” does not lend itself to vivid visual design as much as tragic Shakespeare plays such as “Macbeth” and “King Lear”, but here the strong direction and acting were ample to tell the story.

“As You Like It” panders to the romantics, luxuriating in the perverse spirit that impels us to write bad poetry or dream of country romance, in all of its delight, agony and strangeness. Lakespeare does this play credit with an adroitly-executed production, uniting the civic spirit of the company with professional polish.

A Canberra public servant, weary of the hustle of city life, can watch this euphoric play and dream for a few hours of a better world.

*John Lombard performed in Lakespeare’s 2018 production of “Much Ado About Nothing”.

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