Not Having seen a William Shakespeare play since studying them in high school, I wasn’t entirely sure what I would be in for. Much to my delight, the Black Swan State Theatre Company’s incredible, modern take on this joyful play is endlessly engaging and wildly entertaining.
Duke Senior is exiled into the Forest of Arden by his brother Duke Frederick. The daughter of Duke Senior, Rosalind, is also banished. With her cousin Celia and court fool Touchstone, Rosalind goes into the forest disguised as a man called Ganymede. Meanwhile Young Orlando, who is hopelessly in love with Rosalind, also flees into the forest to escape his murderous older brother Oliver. There he meets Ganymede/Rosalind and seeks his/her advice on women. Not surprisingly, some deliciously witty and complex webs of love and deceit eventuate.
Some of the greatest chemistry occurred in the opening half between Jovana Miletic as the strong-minded and clever Rosalind, and Grace Smibert as her eager and vivacious cousin Celia. Both actresses brought undeniable passion to their roles and this was particularly obvious during their giggly conversations. Equally as delightful, especially in his devotion to Rosalind, was James Sweeny’s Orlando.
Other standout performances came from the energetic Brendan Hanson, as Le Beau and Lord Amiens, and Luke Hewitt as the often vulgar and relentless fool Touchstone. However, my personal favourite was Steve Turner as the melancholy, brooding bystander Jaques.
Set and costume design (Christina Smith with India Mehta) played an integral part in the play’s appeal. The set managed to be both simple and elaborate; the transition from the first minimal set piece to the forest setting had audience members gasping in wonder. For me it was the costumes that made this particular production so special. With the exception of one character at the end of the performance, the characters wore modern clothing. This costume choice made them recognisable to the audience so that it was easy to understand what each character was like.
The lighting design (Matt Scott) was simple but effective and the sound design (Ash Gibson Greig) suitably atmospheric.
As You Like It is a finely crafted balance between the traditional and the modern. It is evident that director Roger Hodgman was passionate about this piece, and the leading actors and ensemble demonstrate equal vigor in their performances. If nothing else, this delightful performance has rekindled my enjoyment of Shakespeare.