As You Like It, Tobacco Factory Bristol, 22 February 2014
The production was the first to offer seat reservation for the Tobacco Factory theatre’s luxurious new benches. This professional, compact seating installation replaced the previous wooden tiered platforms and plastic chairs, freeing enough space to add an extra 5ft to the width of the performance area.
The costumes were vaguely Victorian, and in 1.1 we met downtrodden Orlando (Jack Wharrier), a slightly bland figure compared with Rosalind and Celia, the production’s main focus of attention, as well as white-whiskered Adam (Paul Nicholson) dressed as a formal retainer.
Because of the hard stone floor, the fight between Orlando and Oliver (Matthew Thomas) was mostly done standing up with Orlando grabbing his opponent by the throat and pressing him against the stage pillar. Orlando pointedly emphasised that his father was called Sir Rowland de Boys, an interesting touch that underlined Orlando’s awareness of his own nobility.
Charles Exposition (Peter Basham) was a London-accented thug wrestler. Oliver was a mildly creepy presence, but his soliloquy at the end of the scene conveyed not so much his character’s villainy but rather his confusion at why he hated his brother: this glimmer of Oliver’s virtuous side prepared us for his conversion to goodness towards the end.
Our first view of the two central female characters showed them languishing in forced leisure and discontent. Celia (Daisy May) practised the violin slowly and deliberately with an air of boredom while Rosalind (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) sat and tried to write in a notebook, intermittently shaking her pen to force ink into the nib (1.2). This was a good piece of economical scene and mood setting.
Touchstone (Vic Llewellyn) was a Victorian music hall comedian, while Monsieur le Beau (Vincenzo Pellegrino) was remarkable for being 6ft 5” tall. The text was cut to remove the obtuse legal joke referencing the phrase “by these presents”.
Duke Frederick (Chris Bianchi) wore a formal black uniform and was surrounded by his courtiers, casually brandishing their brandy glasses, as they looked forward to the wrestling as post-dinner entertainment. A mat was laid onto the floor to make the falls safer.
At their first encounter there was no real sign of any spark between Rosalind and Orlando, and this was possibly justified by the strained situation.
The staged fight ended implausibly with Orlando slamming Charles’ head so it struck the ground stunning him. This was weakest part of the performance, and raised the question whether this had been the only way to stage Orlando’s convincing victory.
Rosalind presented Orlando with a necklace and stood close to him until Celia stretched her hand out and encouraged her to leave. Rosalind took Celia’s hand and walked away with her gaze still fixed on Orlando. But Orlando’s dumbstruck expression was a little too immobile and could have been slightly more animated.
Rosalind returned again to speak with Orlando before finally leaving; it was still obvious that she was in love.
The production went with the “shorter was his daughter” variant for reasons of physiological accuracy.
Rosalind and Celia’s discussion about Orlando began with the delightful spectacle of the pair in their nightgowns lying on the floor of their dimly lit shared bedroom, gabbing about Rosalind’s new fancy (1.3).
They teased and slapped each other playfully before a full-on squee when Rosalind referred obliquely to Orlando as her “child’s father”.
The lights went up as Duke Frederick entered the room accompanied by his goons, suggesting that he had turned on the bedroom lights to compound his rude interruption of their intimacy. Rosalind was ordered to leave the court. She protested bravely, but the Duke grabbed her by the hair and dragged her almost to the floor before she could finish speaking.
The pair made their preparations to set off for Arden and Rosalind shouted offstage, labelling the new Duke as one of many “mannish cowards”.
The order of scenes in act two was rearranged.
Firstly, Adam and Orlando fled the court (2.3). This was followed by our first view of Duke Senior (Chris Bianchi again) and his merry men in their long coats in the forest (2.1).
The doubling of the dukes meant that the transition to 2.2 involved a quick change for Chris Bianchi back into the fiendish Duke Frederick. Hisperia (Hannah Lee) appeared and spoke the words that in the text are merely her reported speech.
The refugees arrived in Arden (2.4). Rosalind, wearing in her flat cap and squeezed into a tweed suit by binding her chest, comforted the weary, straggling Celia. She claimed that “britches” (and not “doublet and hose”) “ought to show itself courageous to petticoat”.
They sat on the stage right pillar to watch Silvius (Ben Tolley) tell Corin (Alan Coveney) of his unrequited love for Phebe. Touchstone’s reminiscing about Jane Smile was illustrated with phallic gestures made with his ukulele case. Rosalind arranged to buy Silvius’ farm and the two women departed, leaving Touchstone to carry all their luggage.
Paul Currier’s Jaques was a bespectacled, bookish, ascetic type (2.5). Not satisfied with Amiens’ (Offue Okegbe) repertoire, he finished scribbling a song in his notebook before tearing out the page to hand it to the musician. The other foresters were sat around in a circle and became the target of the “ducdame” remark, rather than the audience.
The foresters were plunged into darkness, while Adam and Orlando were lit at the stage left side, as the young man promised to find food for his elderly companion (2.6).
The foresters’ camp was bare but effective, with heat from a brazier and real food (2.7).
Orlando rushed in threatening them with his sword but was then horribly embarrassed at it in a very English way when he realised they were civilised men.
Jaques’ seven ages speech began light-heartedly, including when he mocked the “childish treble” of the “slippered pantaloon”, but then veered into a moment of severe gravity when Adam was carried in and held as an exemplar of a man “sans everything”. As with most productions, this one demonstrated that the “hour to hour” joke only works in original pronunciation.
As Adam sat and ate, Amiens and the others sang “Blow, blow, thou winter wind”. Jaques was still in a sulk, so the singers directed “this life is most jolly” pointedly at him, in one of the production’s occasional flashes of inspiration.
A quick change swapped over dukes and Oliver appeared from under a coat as the location instantly flipped back to the court for Oliver’s interrogation about his missing brother (3.1).
Illuminated by pale artificial moonlight to bring out the sequence’s Diana references, Orlando pinned his love verse on a stage pillar (3.2).
The debate between Corin and Touchstone was underscored by comic business. The clown had some country muck on his shoe, which he tried to clean off unsuccessfully. He took off the shoe and also tried to remove one of his stockings, enlisting an audience member to help. He gave the soiled shoe to Corin, who scraped off the muck with a knife that he then used to cut an apple, offering a slice to Touchstone, who understandably refused.
Rosalind read one of the verses written in her honour, which Touchstone subverted with his bawdy song, getting the audience to join in with the “Rosalind” punchline. But he played a mean trick by pausing for the punchline at “Love’s…”, a gap which the trusting audience filled with “Rosalind” prompting Touchstone’s immediate correction. This audience participation worked very well in Tobacco Factory space.
With Corin and Touchstone gone, Rosalind asked Celia who had written the verses in an upbeat, playful mood that prepared us for the squeal that resulting from the revelation of Orlando’s authorship.
The original line referencing Rosalind’s disguise of doublet and hose was rewritten to “What shall I do with these?”, which felt unnecessary. The audience should be able to ‘get’ that doublet and hose equates to male attire.
Fantasising about a clinch with Orlando, Rosalind squeezed the stage pillar that for her represented “Jove’s tree”.
Rosalind and Celia lay prone on ground to spy on Orlando and Jaques, but this limited their ability to respond and to be seen responding. Orlando teased Jaques with the idea that he would see a fool drowned in the brook, and Jaques’ retort “There I shall see mine own figure” was one of indignant surprise at being so characterised.
Rosalind adopted a male voice to ask Orlando “Do you hear, forester?” as he crouched on the ground. But he showed no particular interest in her. She then asked him “what is’t o’clock?” but his answer “there’s no clock in the forest” was similarly dismissive.
This initial resistance meant that Rosalind’s ensuing anecdote about Time was a desperate attempt to engage his interest. Her flailing efforts to make him notice her added an interesting tension to the sequence. But by the end of the anecdote he was on his feet and absorbing what she had to say.
Rosalind began to relish this attention, so that when Orlando commented on her voice being refined, she exuded a distinct pride as she continued to invent her own backstory involving a religious uncle. This growing confidence fed into her jocular laddish dismissiveness of women.
All this time Celia sat on a chair and looked unimpressed. Orlando revealed that he was the author of the love verse, and after saying that “Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much” he was in love with Rosalind, he turned away. Celia immediately started gesturing at Rosalind to get stuck in, with the implication that Rosalind should throw off her disguise and reveal herself. Rosalind looked back at Celia, paused, reflected, and then continued with “Love is merely a madness…” telling Orlando that she proposed curing love “by counsel”.
This provided a neat explanation for Rosalind does not simply bring the story to a close at this point when she has a clear opportunity. The staging here made it plain that Rosalind was fighting to stay in her adopted character. She had worked hard to attract Orlando’s attention and once she had won it, she was paralysed with fear: staying in character as Ganymede was the easier option.
Rosalind was thoroughly caught up in her own game and departed with Orlando to show him the cote. She called back “Come sister, will you go?” to a stunned Celia who was visibly befuddled by the turn of events. At this point the interval came.
At the start of the second half we were introduced to Touchstone’s paramour Audrey (Hannah Lee again) (3.3). The text was altered so that “Doth my simple feature content you?” was met with “Which feature?” creating a bawdy joke. Touchstone made a point of showing us his reversible jacket which was now turned outwards to display bright red, completing his transfer from court to country.
Martext was played by the tall Vincenzo Pellegrino (same actor as Le Beau) with the added comedy of him trying unsuccessfully to pickpocket Touchstone at the end of the scene. Thieving then became the “calling” out of which he refused to be flouted.
Rosalind and Celia sat in their cote, with Rosalind rocking on her chair playing with a paper salt cellar. She diverted herself from her unhappiness at Orlando’s no-show by gleefully recounting how she had met her father, the old Duke, in her disguise.
At Corin’s bidding they both ran out to see Silvius and Phebe (Sophie Whittaker), who appeared from the main entrance immediately afterwards, changing the central performance area from inside the cote to outside (3.5). The friends watched from the edge.
Once Phebe had fallen for Ganymede, Rosalind hinted at how she was “falser than vows made in wine” by caressing her body, implying that something unexpected lurked underneath her binding.
Jaques was sat waiting for Rosalind in the cote when they arrived back, creating a connection with the previous scene – he had arrived there while they were occupied with Silvius and Phebe (4.1). Rosalind played along and sat at the table opposite him, pouring Jaques a drink as she criticised “drunkards”.
Jaques’ parting shot was changed unnecessarily to refer to “riddles” rather than “blank verse”, an alteration that made absolutely no sense. Rosalind followed him out, addressing her “gondola” remark to his back.
Rosalind was very pained at Orlando’s delayed arrival. Again Celia sat on her chair and commented sarcastically on this game by chipping in “but he hath a Rosalind of a better leer than you”. This was a continuation of Celia’s urging of Rosalind to throw off her disguise and get on with the serious business of introducing herself to Orlando.
With her next words, Rosalind seemed to pick up on and respond to Celia’s urgency. Describing herself as being “in a holiday humour and like enough to consent”, she cast a glance back at Celia that indicated that she had got the point and that also asked Celia whether this change of tack were sufficient.
Rosalind sat at the table opposite Orlando. He insisted that he would “kiss before I spoke” and leant across intending to plant one on her. At this, she rose, fended him off and backed away. But she was not above flirting with Orlando. Insisting that she would not think her “honesty ranker than my wit”, she sashayed and accentuated her hips, bringing out the sensual meaning of “wit”.
Rosalind was completely serious that she would have Orlando “Fridays and Saturdays and all”. But Orlando took offence at Rosalind saying “Ay, and twenty such”, so that the following exchange of short sentences was quizzical and terse.
The mock marriage gave her further encouragement and Rosalind became overly enthusiastic when taking Orlando for her husband. Realising she had caused him embarrassment, she withdrew and apologised for getting ahead of herself.
Her air of skittishness was only increased when she laughed like a hyena during her long list of things she would do once they were married.
Celia scoffed loudly when Orlando said that his Rosalind was wise. This was another facet of Celia’s continuing disapproval of Rosalind’s disguise game. In response, Rosalind glanced at Celia, making her next words “Or else she could not have the wit to do this” an assertion of her cleverness and a justification of the long game she was playing.
Orlando had to leave again for another two hours, causing Rosalind serious upset. By 4.1.176 she could not disguise her disappointment and pleaded with him in a whiny voice not to be late back. Orlando picked up on this and drew close, put his hand on the curve of her hip and looked into her eyes, before checking himself and making yet another embarrassed retreat.
After the brief scene of the deer hunt (4.2), Rosalind read the letter brought by Silvius from Phebe (4.3).
Oliver’s appearance and rehabilitation was pleasingly credible, building on his initial glimmer of decency to make his present conversion to goodness convincing.
Rosalind fainted backwards on seeing the napkin stained with Orlando’s blood and her cap tumbled off. Oliver pulled her upright and she slumped forwards pressing into him with her chest, which although it was strapped down doubtless made an impression.
She stood in her male attire with her woman’s hair uncovered and gestured with her hand behind her back at Celia, who retrieved Rosalind’s cap and placed it in her grasp, enabling her to reposition it as she dismissed her collapse as counterfeiting. Oliver gave subtle signs that he had seen through Rosalind’s disguise.
Touchstone and Audrey bickered about their failed wedding (5.1). Taking advantage of Audrey’s disenchantment, her old fame William (Peter Basham again) boldly walked up to her, undid his fly and introduced himself. Audrey did not seem to object to this attention, and it was left to Touchstone to intervene and separate the pair with his threats.
Oliver explained to Orlando about his sudden affection for Celia (5.2). He left soon after Rosalind turned up and his farewell “and you, fair sister” verged on a knowing taunt.
Orlando’s arm was not bound in a scarf. He told Rosalind that his brother had imparted “greater wonders than that” in a subtle, but not overt, hint that he knew what was going on.
Orlando did not want to look at happiness through his brother’s eyes. Rosalind shook his hand to part, saying that she would weary him no longer “with idle talking”. But she kept hold of his hand as she began to explain her scheme.
The “What it is to love” sequence was pleasant enough, but could have benefited from some music, which the production had provided at other points.
The musical interlude scene (5.3) contained a running gag continuing the theme of Audrey’s disenchantment with Touchstone and dalliance with William. As the song progressed, Audrey danced ever more lasciviously with William until she ended up straddling him. Touchstone’s closing complaints about the “foolish song” formed a muted criticism of her behaviour.
The wedding guests gathered (5.4). Posing yet more problems for Touchstone, Audrey took advantage of his conversation with the Duke to hitch up her dress slowly, casting enticing oeillades at Orlando, until Touchstone noticed and instructed her to bear her body “more seeming”.
There was another attempt at audience participation that unfortunately fell rather flat. Jaques and Touchstone’s repartee about the seven degrees of the lie concluded with a digression on the word “if”. The word was repeated several times and when it was due for another mention, Touchstone turned to me and paused waiting for me to fill in, much as the whole audience had done when he had played with the name “Rosalind”. He stared for a few seconds, while I returned a blank look, and then continued.
Rosalind, now in her wedding dress, was ushered into the assembled company by Hymen (Offue Okegbe). The reunions were followed by the couples kneeling to have wedding bands wrapped around their hands.
The seeming implausibility of Duke Frederick’s conversion and the restoration of Duke Senior to his rightful place provided an opportunity for the old duke to demonstrate some of the virtue that had made him a good ruler.
Duke Senior could have luxuriated in his restoration. But instead his first action was to approach the elderly Adam and help him to his feet telling the others to “forget this new-fall’n dignity”.
After the rustic revelry dancing, Rosalind and Orlando kissed. The entire cast exited except Rosalind who, realising she was being left alone on stage, followed a little way and called after them “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue”, as if complaining at being left to perform it. The text was changed from “If I were a woman” to “As I am a woman” and Rosalind, on this occasion, managed to find a man with a beard that pleased her.
This production did a very good job of suggesting a convincing reason why Rosalind does not abandon her disguise on meeting Orlando in the forest.
Once again Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory has delivered a quality product, with the intimacy of the space, the thoughtful direction and accomplished performances all contributing to its value.