A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
As You Like It

Celebrating its seventieth anniversary, the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, London, set amidst the trees, shrubberies, flowers, and fountains of Regent’s Park, offered an idyllic setting for “As You Like It.”  Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, this was an ideal production, fast-moving, clearly and meaningfully spoken, and performed by a talented cast who sing and dance as well as act.

Ms. Kavanaugh, who guided the delightful “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at the Open Air last season, is notable among Shakespeare directors for her exceptionable ability in casting the roles, paying close attention to physical attributes mentioned in the text, never resorting to “against type” casting for a cheap laugh (like the transvestites in the wedding masque in the RSC “Tempest”), making certain that the actors and thus the audience understand the lines, and providing many imaginative touches that support the dialogue.

When Amiens sings to Duke Senior and his retinue in the forest of Arden, for instance, his pose is familiar from illustrations of pastoral shepherds, enhancing the atmosphere of the scene.  This director also is aware of the value of the set speech, like the Seven Ages of Man, keeping the actor still and giving the lines their full value. Just as Hamlet, instructing the Players, knew that it was important to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action,” so there are no distractions by extraneous movement in this production. But when physical action is called for, it is there, in an excellent rendition of the Act I wrestling scene (Shakespeare was a master at getting the audience’s attention early on.)

The cast are uniformly good.  Rebecca Johnson is an outstanding Rosalind, agile and appealing, but not overdoing her imitation of a boy when she assumes the disguise of Ganymede. Thus she is able to remind the audience of the woman within the role she is playing in this game of love. Benedict Cumberbatch brings conviction to Orlando, a relatively thankless role, for he must play “straight man” to Rosalind-Ganymede’s witticisms about no man ever dying for love, or about the fact that “maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.”  Christopher Godwin is an impressive Jaques, who makes the most of some of the best lines in the play, while John Hodgkinson as Touchstone, the court fool who accompanies Rosalind and Celia into the forest, is genuinely amusing because he reads his lines seriously, as a “wise fool” should. And in the multiple mating that characterizes Shakespeare’s comedies, Caitlin Mottram and Adam Levy are ideal as Rosalind’s cousin Celia and Orlando’s brother Oliver.

The design by Francis O’Connor enhances the production, with costumes as a mix of Edwardian and Victorian and a setting combining wooden walls and doors and pillars as trees that turn to reveal Orlando’s verses carved in gold.