By Henry Jones
First Theatre Company’s production of As You Like It rose to the challenges posed by Shakespeare, and Cameron Yule’s directorial debut is something he can be proud of.
Shakespeare’s comedies are a tricky thing, intertwining comic relief with rather more serious moments of contemplation reminiscent of his tragedies. The cast found this balance, however, with characters like Jack Palmer’s Jaques humorously bumbling around like a grumpy academic before effortlessly dropping into the ‘all the world’s a stage’ contemplation on life and death.
John Broadhead and Fiona Monk (Orlando and Rosalind respectively) were both particularly impressive, with Monk and Sophie Cullis, Celia, carrying much of the play. Monk’s diverse performance held the audience’s attention from start to finish, and I particularly enjoyed her epilogue — appropriately comfortable and engaged with the audience as she had grown closer to us in the production.
Jay Small and Alex Berridge-Dunn stood out amongst the smaller roles of the play; I found that Berridge-Dunn had an impressive command of the stage and effective comic timing. A couple of the smaller roles, however, were not so impressive, but overall the acting was good, and it was clear that Yule had taken time to work on this.
Alington House proved that a lesser known location in Durham can be used, although it did perhaps lack a touch of professionalism. Performing in the round always works well for the comedies, however, I felt that some of the entrances and exits could have been aided by a few more light changes or blackouts (particularly in the second half).
The musical accompaniment is something Emily Winters, Musical Director, can be proud of. It captured the light pastoral and jovial feel of the play and worked well to transition between scenes, but some of the singing did leave something to be desired in places.
Overall, the play was entertaining. There were a couple of stumbled lines, one quick-change took too long, and a singer didn’t come in on time, but these are all insignificant first night issues that added the rough-and-ready feel that Yule was going for. Most importantly, the actors understood the language and, therefore, so did the audience.
It is not the slickest, most professional thing you will ever see, but when was Shakespeare’s comedy ever meant for that? Go and see it for some light relief at this stressful time in term; I’m sure you will enjoy it.
Photograph: William Batt