The Forest of Arden came to life at the Pleasance Theatre last night as members of Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company (EUSC) took to the stage to perform As You Like it. One of Shakespeare’s brilliant comedies, the play has it all: wrestling, absurdity and plenty of romance.
Following the banishment of her father, Rosalind (Tilly Botsford) flees to the forest with her cousin Cecilia (Lizzie Lewis) and fool, Touchstone (Will Peppercorn). Once there, chaos ensues and romance blossoms, in true Shakespearean fashion.
Directed by Michael Zwiauer, the EUSC’s As You Like It is set at the turn of the twentieth century, with beautiful costumes expertly designed by Laura Hounsell. From gorgeous straw boaters adorned with garlands of flowers to Touchstone’s characteristically flamboyant blazer, the show’s overall aesthetic was reminiscent of an Edwardian garden party. The costumes were complemented by the subtle, yet successful set which was completed by gorgeous green lighting. Zwiauer’s Forest of Arden is subtle without being rendered inconspicuous, although occasionally atmosphere did overcome action. That being said, the use of live music throughout the production gently mingled with the plot providing a greater sense of authenticity regarding the play’s pastoral ethos. Guitar in hand, Ally Shilson offered delicate vocals throughout accompanied by the elegant duo, Lucy Hicks-Beech and Jo Hill on piano and violin respectively.
Indeed, the production’s subtlety endures in the performance of its actors. There is a propensity when staging As You Like It or any of Shakespeare’s comedies to favour slapstick over finesse. This performance mostly ensures that it occupies the latter category. From the gloriously funny depiction of Duke Senior (Fergus Head) as a withering old gentleman with grey hair and a bad back to match, to Audrey’s (Hannah Churchill) wonderful west country accent, it was these small flourishes which brought the comedy to life.
Comedy aside, the production was full to the brim with exceptional and accessible performances. Michael Hajiantonis made for a superb Jaques. It would perhaps be easy to play up on the characteristic ‘melancholy’ of Duke Senior’s resident poet but Hajiantonis was quick to provide a fresh interpretation of the role. His rendition of ‘All the world’s a stage’ made refreshing use of pace and his tongue-in-cheek embodiment of the Shakespearean soft boy was a particular highlight. Lizzie Lewis as Cecilia offered a sensitive yet suitably witty counterpart to Tilly Botsford’s Rosalind. The delightful sisterhood between the two cousins was wonderfully convincing and a joy to watch.
Still, it was Botsford’s Rosalind who offered the finest performance of the evening. Her acting was equal parts energetic, uplifting and measured. The transition from Rosalind to Ganymede was free from its usual ridiculous over-the-top performativity but was rather endearing and relatable. This sense of accessibility came across most acutely in the epilogue. With lucid use of timing and expression, it was a fitting end to a marvellous production. At a moment with deadlines and exams are looming, the EUSC has offered a whirlwind of fun amidst the chaos of university life.
As You Like It runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 8 March 2020.