Bard in the Botanics’ outdoor season of Shakespeare classics hasn’t had its troubles to seek since the programme opened with rain- plagued, and cancelled, productions of The Tempest and Romeo & Juliet.
Indeed, such has been the organisers’ frustration, that critics had been told in no uncertain terms to wrap up well this weekend for the opening of this promenade production of As You Like It, as director Gordon Barr, (who also directed Romeo & Juliet), had vowed the show would go ahead, come hell or high water.
Thankfully, high water was nowhere to be seen on opening night. Although the short drizzle that delayed the start slightly had organisers worriedly gazing at the sky. But, as it was the evening went ahead without a hitch, and here’s hoping that stays true for the rest of the run. And if the female cast produce a brolly or too it’s easy enough to imagine ladylike parasols.
Given that the play takes place in the Forest of Arden, the natural surroundings of the Botanics suits the show down to a T (or should that be down to a tree?).
And so it proves, the atmospheric setting serving the production well as the audience are moved around four separate locations during the evening to be treated to Shakespeare’s classic pastoral comedy.
Lovestruck lads and lassies; a bit of cross- dressing; battle of the sexes banter; a wise fool- many of Shakespeare’s signature traits are to be found here in a production featuring fine performances in the key roles. And Barr’s production is entertaining fare.
Her father, the Duke, banished by his usurping brother Frederick, Nicole Cooper’s Rosalind, soon finds herself suffering the same fate. Accompanied by the tyrant Duke’s daughter, Celia, and wise fool Touchstone, she makes her way to the Forest of Arden, where, disguised as a young boy, Ganymede, she soon bumps into the other outcasts of the court, including Tom Duncan’s Orlando.
The pair having met briefly in court circles and been instantly smitten with one another, Rosalind’s boyish disguise then becomes the wheel on which the Bard’s comedy turns, as Ganymede offers to counsel Orlando in matters of love by pretending to be Rosalind for him in a bit of entertaining, if far- fetched, role play.
As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most enchanting comedies. But you have to keep your wits about you to follow it, featuring as it does a maze of lovers, both country folk and court folk, wooing, and lusting, after one another, in this pastoral idyll.
So, while the main action sees us keeping our eyes on the romantic fortunes of Rosalind and Orlando there are plenty of other lovers’ lanes to follow throughout proceedings.
These include Touchstone, who has his heart set on marrying Audrey the goatherd, in what is a lively, charismatic performance from Paul Cunningham, but one perhaps too close in tone at times to the play’s other mouthpiece, the cynical, melancholy man of the world courtier, Jacques, played here by Kirk Bage. In camel coat and carrying a cane, at times Cunningham’s Touchstone comes across as more Leslie Phillips' rake than clown.
Elsewhere Jennifer Dick makes for a perky, put-upon, Celia, while Bage delivers the famous Seven Ages of man speech with engaging gravitas, and, like Cunningham, delivers rich touches throughout.
But ultimately the play belongs to Rosalind. And Cooper embraces the role with real gusto, her high spiritedness an infectious delight, be it playing a “ he” or “a she” in a play about love’s labour’s won. Hats off to Duncan and Levi Morger too for tackling the wrestling scene shirts off, and barefoot, in spite of the threat of rain.
As You Like It, Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, until Jul 28. Tel: 0141 429 0022