As You Like It at Southwark Playhouse

Sally Scott in As You Like It at Southwark Playhouse by Robert Workman

Performed by a cast of ten actor-musicians, Derek Bond’s take on Shakespeare’s comedy of gender-reversal and the constancy (or not) of love is melodic, quirky and at its absolute best when it loses all sense of seriousness. It takes a while to get there given the Bard’s finicky set-up, but Bond delights throughout in the characters’ foibles and sense of rebellion and he fearlessly works the audience into the show – which, presumably, is as they like it.

Brothers Orlando and Oliver fight over their inheritance while cousins Rosalind and Celia look on. Rosalind and Orlando before long fall for one another but are separated when she is banished to the Forest of Arden by her uncle, Duke Frederick. Happily, Orlando and almost everyone else, including the court jester Touchstone and the ever-faithful Celia, find their way to the forest, as well, where they encounter Duke Senior, who is yet another victim of Frederick’s liberally administered and usefully vague policy of exile.

You’re doubtless aware what happens next: Rosalind in order to survive disguises herself as a man with Celia posing as her sister, and they keep Touchstone around to cheer them up. Soon after, they happen upon Orlando, who unwittingly confesses to Rosalind’s newly acquired male self, Ganymede, that he loves this most radiant of Shakespeare heroines. Ganymede by return offers Orlando counsel and even lets the poor boy practice various amorous moves on “him”.

As Rosalind, Sally Scott revels in the character’s unforced wisdom, her knowing swagger as Ganymede an apt foil to Harry Livingstone’s rather more meek Orlando. Steven Crossley (pictured above) plays the two Dukes, charming us with his warm-hearted, avuncular Senior and turning his stern Frederick into a puffed-up curmudgeonly old fool. The production’s scene-stealer, however, is Simon Lipkin (pictured below), who ad libs with sharp wit and buoyant eccentricity. Lipkin, a musical theatre stalwart of Avenue Q renown and soon to be seen at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Assassins, justifies Bond’s kooky decision to have Touchstone’s love interest, Audrey, played by a sheep puppet – Welsh-accented, of course.

Musical director Joanna Hickman and composer Jude Obermüller provide a lovely musical palette, and designer Emma Bailey’s confetti machine honours Shakespeare’s pathetic fallacy whereby bursts of coloured paper signal the changing of the seasons. Specks of white paper snow announce a bitter and desperate winter, leaving bright green to welcome the renewed hope of spring. One might quibble about the rather generic costuming but that in itself isn’t enough to dilute the gatheringly joyous atmosphere. By the time the brilliantly comic second half has come to and end, the audience is left giddy, grinning, and brushing confetti off their shoulders.

Image by Robert Workman

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