As You Like It is Bell Shakespeare’s first offering this year and has already been through Sydney and Canberra on its way to us here in Melbourne.
It’s also John Bell’s first Bell Shakespeare endeavour since the announcement of Peter Evans joining him as Co-Artistic Director. Is that relevant to the show’s positives and faults? Completely, because As You Like It is clearly intended as a celebration of theatre to coincide with the celebration of a long and illustrious career, and in many ways its faults come from trying too hard to make the play something it only kind of is.
Director Evans and designer Michael Hankin seemed to base their concept on the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech, to the detriment of some of the deeper, more personal and relatable themes. It has a constant meta tinge throughout. Direct addresses to the audience aren’t soliloquies but contain clear acknowledgement of our presence, occasionally for what seems like no other reason then to highlight the “yes, we know you’re there, aren’t we a lark” eyebrow raises.
As You Like it isn’t a bad production. It’s exuberant and engaging and the two-plus hours don’t drag. But as much as it’s not bad, it’s also not good. It’s occasionally trite and has too much fun with itself as it tries to make the audience feel more than shallow amusement at its goings on.
All performers do a solid job, although the big names are left in the dust by many of their supporting cast, notably Gareth Davies’s clownish Touchstone, the silken voiced Abi Tucker and the criminally underused Emily Eskell.
As You Like It doesn’t aim for the heights, so it never reaches them. It’s a simple and enjoyable night at the theatre that ultimately falls firmly in the middle ground of theatrical achievement.