AS YOU LIKE IT: Transport Theatre Company
AS YOU LIKE IT: BRIGHTON DOME
- Venue: Brighton Dome
- Director: Douglas Rintoul
- Designer: Hayley Grindle
Directors are currently making exceptional use of framing devices.
One of the many merits of Phyllida Lloyd’s recent all-female Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse was that the setting of a women’s prison completely justified the single-gender casting.
A production of As You Like It by Douglas Rintoul (like Lloyd a product of the University of Birmingham) sets the play in a migrant centre approximating to the former Sangatte camp at the Calais side of the Channel Tunnel.
A tour of England by the Folkestone-based company Transport came to the Brighton Dome, and reconsidering the play in the light of Rintoul’s take on proves a revelation.
The plot is all about exile, banishment (one of Shakespeare’s favourite words) and literally being an alien. Doesn’t the heroine’s cousin take the name of Aliena when she leaves home for the forest and then refer explicitly to her status? So far so brilliant but sadly Rintoul becomes engrossed in the overall concept and neglects fundamentals such as ensuring that young cast members understand the classical allusions in their lines and can deliver speeches with appropriate inflection so that the meaning is clear.
The central theme is revealed when the narrator, the personable Fisayo Akinade, tells the audience that he has distributed the text to his fellow asylum-seekers who have varying degrees of proficiency in English. They proceed to perform the play in a decrepit squat near whatever transport hub they are hoping to use to find a better life. Designer Hayley Grindle (who has excelled elsewhere recently in the south-east with sets for Peter Shaffer’s The Private Ear and the Public Eye) does just enough to suggest the forest effectively but anchors the piece in the migrants’ immediate surroundings through cutaway staging.
The performances are variable with Elisabet Joannesdottir making no impression as Rosalind. An Icelandic national, she is a graduate of the New York Film Academy and speaks fluent English with an American accent which makes nonsense of her role as a stateless alien looking for a passport and a better life. Any heroine of a Shakespearian comedy must be indisputably the most witty, resourceful and charismatic character on the stage. Joannesdottir rarely understands her lines (the mere fact that she was able to get through them without comprehension is a prodigious feat of memory) and she soon grates with monotonous one-paced delivery and lack of invention in her movement.
Strong performances elsewhere (notably Colin Michael Carmichael as Touchstone, Ritu Arya bringing charisma to the shepherdess Phoebe and Mark Jax as an exceptionally melancholy Jaques) reinforce the intelligence to be seen in the general treatment. This is a dark interpretation of the text and as the characters re-emerge from their roles within the play back into their original identity as migrants you fear that few of them will find the sanctuary they are seeking.
A hint that the narrator may have been dreaming throughout and the fact that he rather than Rosalind gives us the epilogue are final reminders that despite the flaws in the vers-speaking, Douglas Rintoul has given us a coherent and intensely political reading of the text. He has thought deeply about his choice and found striking parallels between original themes and topical issues relating to moder-day repression which will have had audiences still joining up the dots several days later. it's an impressive piece of work.