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 the rather more serious moments of contemplation that typify his tragedies. Nonetheless, the cast managed to find this balance, 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 mortality.
John Broadhead’s portrayal of Orlando was also particularly impressive, as were the characterisations of Rosalind and Celia by Fiona Monk and Sophie Cullis respectively. 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 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 still be used effectively, although it did perhaps lack a touch of professionalism. Performing in the round always works well for the comedies, but I felt that some of the entrances and exits could have been aided by a few more lighting changes or blackouts (particularly in the second half).
Finally, the musical accompaniment is something for which Emily Winters, Musical Director, deserves praise. She captured the light pastoral and jovial feel of the play, helping to transition between scenes, despite the fact that some of the singing varied in proficiency.
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 to 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 Shakespearean comedy ever meant for that? Go and see it for some light relief at this stressful time in term; I’m sure the evening will be just as you like it.
Photograph: William Batt