Durham Student Theatre in collaboration with Durham University Classical Theatre places this Shakespearean Comedy in the 1970s, drawing out the whimsicality of its romance by labelling it a ‘Shakespearian chick flick’.
The piece translates easily into this time period; the French Court becomes the business world, dominated by consumer needs, whilst the Forest of Arden is transformed into a hippy paradise.
To further show the contrast between these two settings, director Zenia Selby places the audience in between two stages, which are representative of the opposing spheres. Although conceptually interesting, this meant that the audience were always awkwardly twisting back and forth in their seats and during the interval were told to turn their seats around completely as the action would no longer be taking place on the front stage.
Additionally, there was occasional action on the remaining two sides without staging, meaning that the audience was surrounded by the action, as if experiencing theatre in the round in reverse. However, rather than making the audience feel more engaged, this fractured absorption as it was unclear where the action would be taking place next.
The Forest of Arden was given a laid-back atmosphere with continued live guitar music accompanying the scenes and fairy lights running along the back of the stage to provide relaxed lighting.
The opening scene was not the strongest within the production. Perhaps nerves contributed to the rushed speech, as later on in the piece the actors seemed to relax into the language.
Additionally, the movement of the characters at first was jerky and without foundation. Although there was intention behind bold movements, such as the point at which the brothers grappled on the desk, there was no build up to the moment and so there was little tension achieved.
Furthermore, there did not appear to be clear or dynamic blocking for the actors. The shallow stages were clearly difficult spaces to work with, but more often than not there seemed to be no attention given to diversity of levels or spatial awareness. The actors remained always at a comfortable distance from one another, rather than making use of the opportunity for action in close proximity, which the staging offered.
Also, some of the actors had a tendency to dance on the spot whilst delivering their lines, which created an awkward atmosphere.
Cousins Celia (Taryn Cornell) and Rosalind (Isobel Englert) brought a refreshingly relaxed approach to their parts. In their conversation they made the Shakespearean language more accessible through the natural and subtle emotion lingering behind their words. It is so easy with Shakespeare to fall into the trap of over-acting, making the characters flat and melodramatic, however the heroines managed to steer clear of this portrayal.
This was also the case with the character of Touchstone, played by the director. Selby was able to keep the natural feel of the language whilst incorporating the touch of eccentricity needed in the Shakespearean fool. This was nicely balanced by the melancholy presented in the twinned character Jacques (Justin Murray).
Jacques’ famous ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech was thoughtfully delivered. Despite the complexity of the construction of the monologue, Murray’s pauses and hesitations made it seem as though it was an unrehearsed moment of inspiration, rather than a carefully memorized chunk of text.
Many of the actors were very strong individually, but firmer and more consistent focus on characterization and movement as an entire cast would have enhanced the piece substantially. Particular praise must go to Taryn Cornell for her effortless stage presence and mastery of the language.
Photographs: Nicola Todhunter