AS YOU’LL LOVE IT! A Review of As You Like It: Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival 22nd July to 1st August 2015

July 23, 2015



When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a

man’s good wit seconded with the forward child

understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a

great reckoning in a little room…


Critics are apt to pitch their own shadows and find substance therein, but George Bernard Shaw saw As You Like It as a mere crowd pleaser, which exploited ‘the fondness of the British public for sham moralising and stage “philosophy”’. I have a confession to make. I have never been enamoured (give me a stately-written tragedy any day! I have always said) with As You Like It, never seconded its wit. Apart from the tantalising Marlovian allusions, I have always found it boring. I didn’t enjoy it when I studied it. I didn’t enjoy the Kenneth Branagh version. I didn’t enjoy the Basil Coleman version. In fact, before last night, it was my least favourite play by Shakespeare next to his collaboration with Fletcher on Henry VIII. And yet, the Rebecca Gould version allowed me to see why this play is so popular and beloved. I can honestly say that this was one of the most heart-warming, delightful theatre experiences I’ve ever had.

It was the first time I’d attended the Everyman Open Air Festival, so it was all very new to me. The Bute Park trees screening the actors. The reds and blues contending in a summery evening sky. The tweeting of birds and the occasional barking of dogs. Here was an Arden or Arcadia, and the noise of traffic in the city seemed so very distant from this paradisiacal set. The audience were treated to a couple of hours in the golden world, and it was simply stunning. We were also treated to a few folk songs by a very talented group of musicians, before Rosalind (played by the captivating Bridie Smith) sealed the deal for me with a gorgeous rendition of ‘The Parting Glass’.

This production is set pre-First World War. England represents the court and, I take it, rural Ireland is Arden. The business in England at the beginning of the play was hilarious. There was great chemistry between Smith’s Rosalind and Celia (played by the excellent Victoria Walters), and hilarious by-play between Orlando (Eifion Ap Cadno) and his brother Oliver (Ankur Senguptar). The audience were enthralled by the wrestling match between Orlando and the musclebound, rib-cracking Charles (Thomas Easton), and this made me realise that to truly appreciate Shakespeare’s comedy one must see it on stage. The actors were all smiles, and thus we were soon grinning too. When the players are clearly enjoying their roles in such a superbly directed production, it is a difficult thing to begrudge them of rapturous applause.


We were soon banished to Arden, where we encountered all sorts of weird and wonderful characters. The interactions between the likes of Touchstone (played by Adam Porter, who is a particularly talented comic actor) and Audrey (Sophie Wilmot-Jackson), Silvius (Tom Lloyd-Kendall) and Phoebe (Charlotte Rees), never really appealed to me on the page. But given such strong casting and direction, the power of Shakespeare’s play to amuse shone as vivaciously as the final bursts of sunlight, before evening crept in and the stage lights illuminated the poem-pegged trees.

Another positive reviewer has recently noted that the change of some male characters to female characters didn’t really add anything, nor take anything away. This would be my only criticism, if you can call it that. This reviewer also argued that audience participation was perhaps too far, but I strongly disagree. In this respect, Gould’s production was very faithful to Shakespeare’s original theatre and yet enabled audience members who might not be overly familiar with early modern drama to clap and stamp along with the exuberant actors. One can’t help being overawed by the talent that Everyman has at their disposal. I recently enjoyed a production of Measure for Measure at Chapter Theatre, and was stunned by the performances (although I was very upset to learn that some people seem to have radically misinterpreted a couple of lines of unadulterated praise in my review for that excellent production. ‘When a man’s verses’ etc. etc.). I was equally stunned by the cast of As You Like It. A special mention must go to the vocal talents of Ella Maxwell and Victoria Walters. One’s eye often scans over the page when a Shakespeare ditty comes up, but these guys modernised the songs and showed us why music is such an important component of Shakespearean comedy.

Most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the casting of the leads was really spot on. Eifion Ap Cadno made for a superb Orlando. He embraced the slapstick aspects of the play, but his performance was also understated. He made especially good use of his voice. When delivered by him, Shakespeare’s verse sounded like everyday conversation, and he dominated the stage with a starry presence that one can only envy. He has a big career ahead of him as a professional actor, I suspect. As for Bridie Smith, who I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing on stage before last night, I simply can’t praise her enough. I now realise why Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved heroines. Smith had incredible energy and a real mastery of comic timing. I may be a bit biased, but Shakespeare’s language is at its most beautiful when delivered in the dulcet tones of a Welsh accent. Smith’s performance was quite possibly the finest female comedy performance I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on stage. Orlando and Rosalind were clearly enjoying the proceedings, and would be able to convince any Monsieur Melancholies that their love was genuine.


Everyman once again excelled here. This company is consistently doing Welsh performing arts proud. Within a couple of hours, Gould’s production completely changed my views on Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy. I am pleased to say that I am now a convertite. –

We live in a world full of terror. The daily news is satiated with atrocities committed against culture, religion, race, fellow human beings. The pre-war of today is not clear-cut; enemies lie in shadows. Maybe As You Like It is, as Shaw contended, a crowd pleaser, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It is a play that shows us humans can love each other. It offers a distraction from the tragedies of our time. Sometimes, we need an Arden to aspire to. I am incredibly grateful to Everyman for once again putting on a faithful and truly beautiful production of a Shakespeare comedy. The Everyman Open Air Festival is such a unique experience that I can only urge readers to go and see it. I’m confident you’ll love this production of As You Like It as much as I did: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/85800

Five stars, easy. *****


Open Air Shakespeare in Cardiff – catch it now

July 23, 2015

Now showing!

Everyman Theatre has a new website and a new production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, 22 July – 1 August: http://everymanfestival.co.uk


Review of MacDonald P. Jackson’s Monograph, Determining the Shakespeare Canon.

July 5, 2015

© Darren Freebury-Jones 2015


My review of MacDonald P. Jackson’s monograph, Determining the Shakespeare Canon, is now available in Archiv fuer das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 252:1. More detailed evaluations of Jackson’s findings are forthcoming.

Link to review here:



Shakespeare and Arden of Faversham: Ratios for Alternate Forms

June 30, 2015

© Darren Freebury-Jones 2015

This data has been collected for the purpose of my thesis, ‘Imitation and Collaboration in Shakespeare’s Early Plays’.

Play Hath/Doth Hast/Dost Wherein/Therein While(s)/Whilst
Henry VI 2 63/21 25/10 3/0 16/5
Shrew 35/16 18/6 3/0 21/3
Arden 41/12 24/7 3/0 6/8
Play Betwixt/Between Amongst/Among Besides/Beside Hither/Thither
Henry VI 2 0/6 0 0/2 9/4
Shrew 0/2 2/3 5/2 11/3
Arden 2/0 3/2 2/1 0/1
Play Hath/Doth Hast/Dost Wherein/Therein While(s)/Whilst
Henry VI 2 63/21 25/10 3/0 16/5
Shrew 35/16 18/6 3/0 21/3
Arden Scenes 4-9 12/5 7/0 0 3/2
Play Betwixt/Between Amongst/Among Besides/Beside Hither/Thither
Henry VI 2 0/6 0 0/2 9/4
Shrew 0/2 2/3 5/2 11/3

Scenes 4-9

1/0 1/2 0 0

The Winter’s Tale currently in Cardiff, inc. BSL

June 13, 2015


[Missed this in my heads up about performances in South Wales]

Taking Flight Theatre presents

The Winter’s Tale

William Shakespeare

Directed by: Elise Davison

BSL translation by: Sami Thorpe and Stephen Collins

‘If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating’

Shakespeare’s romantic tragi-comedy is a story of loss, repentance, love and reconciliation, and is brought to you this summer in true Taking Flight style.   . Join the party at a lively jazz club where toe tapping original music might even get you dancing- then watch as jealousy destroys this vibrant world, leaving it devoid of promise and in a state of eternal winter. Don’t despair; you’ll be whisked over the sea to a place where music, love and plenty of laughter can heal these tragic wounds.

Dress to impress but wear your outdoor shoes – this is a travelling production.

All performances are relaxed and are BSL (British Sign Language) supported.


Thompsons Park, Canton, Cardiff

Thursday 11th June 6.30pm

Friday 12th June  6.30pm

Saturday 13th June 2pm and 6.30pm

Sunday 14th June  2pm and  6.30pm

Wednesday 17th June 6.30pm

Thursday 18th June 12pm and 6.30pm


South Wales: Shakespeare / Early Modern Plays this Summer

May 31, 2015

Just a heads up about some current, or forthcoming, productions of early modern plays

The Duchess of Malfi at RWCMD

John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is currently playing at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff: http://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/whats_on/events/the_duchess_of_malfi.aspx

You can see Twelfth Night at Cardiff Castle, 26-27th June, 2015.

Taking Flight Theatre is touring The Winter’s Tale (in Cardiff 11-18th of June).

Everyman Theatre have a new website and a new production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, 22 July – 1 August: http://everymanfestival.co.uk

And you can see The Tempest tonight in Llanhennock and a version of Henry IV on July 10th as part of the Caerleon Festival.

I’m sure I’ve missed a production or two, so please do let me know of others @DrJ_Gregory


Northern Broadsides’ King Lear: A Review

May 28, 2015


Northern Broadsides Production

King Lear, Dir. Jonathan Miller

Rose Theatre, Kingston

Friday, 22 May, 2015

A review by Lucy Menon (Cardiff University alumna)

On the evening of Friday 22nd May 2015, I attended the Northern Broadsides’ production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

One of the striking features of this production of King Lear was the Northern accents of the cast; these accents served to reinforce the concept of familial bonds for me as it seemed the ‘down-to-earth’ intonations in the lilt transgressed the idea of it being a royal family and made it instantly more familiar and heightened the tragedy in the sense that it could easily be your own family undergoing such tensions. However, through a very strong cast and able direction from Jonathan Miller, the elevated nature of the play was still maintained and a sense of inner, as well as political, conflict was achieved.

They made good use of a minimal set: a wooden frame, reminiscent of an extremely large curtain rail, complete with deep red velvet curtain wound over the top pole on the left side; wooden tables and benches that were not always present or moved around the stage for various scene changes. The wooden frame literally, as well as metaphorically, served to frame and focus the action on stage. It also took on a more active use when Edgar (Jack Wilkinson), disguised as Tom, would kiss and hold the wooden pole which served to emphasise his disconnection from the others in his own madness. He also took on an almost Jesus-like figure through his nakedness, wounds and crown of thorns and adopting positions with his arms and legs around the wooden frame that almost paralleled a crucifixion stance.

Barrie Rutter gave a convincing performance of the proud king dwindling to a dishevelled old man. Lear’s madness is seemingly a result of his grief and inner turmoil rather than genuine insanity and so seems even more tragic as it reinforces the idea that he is aware of his misdeeds and ill treatment of others and is a fact he will have to bear. When eventually reunited with Cordelia, their interaction is incredibly touching and he becomes the doting father that he should have been from the start: the poignancy is not lost on the audience who realise that this is all too late. In his attempts to reassure her when they are taken to prison we are made to realise what Lear himself realises: this is quite possibly the outcome of his own actions and in some way is responsible for the death of his dutiful daughter. His distress and disbelief at her demise in the concluding moments of the play are highly charged and when he asks for his clothes to be loosened the physical reaction to his emotional grief is made obvious as his heart is literally breaking.

The Fool’s (Fine Time Fontayne) make-up of white face paint with black crosses over his eyes, in a stereotypical clown fashion, gave him an eerie quality and made him appear quite sinister when coupled with the dark replies and dead-pan humour he provides. Appearing after Cordelia leaves and disappearing when she returns, the Fool serves as her stage presence by continually commenting upon Lear’s foolishness and so becoming a disturbing reminder for Lear of his errors.

The three sisters were well cast with Helen Sheals, Nicola Sanderson and Catherine Kinsella playing Goneril, Regan and Cordelia respectively. The strength of the bond between the elder siblings was accentuated when contrasted with those they appeared to share with their father, which did not hold even when slightly tested. The pair are also united through similar body language as well as facial expressions, such as eye-rolling, they both managed to convey their irritation and true feelings about their father which was often quite humorous (after all, who hasn’t been frustrated by an aging parent?) as well as being a source of tension within the play. However, the true spiteful and vicious nature of the sisters, as pointed out by Cordelia in the opening scenes, is still overwhelmingly clear; it is not only their behaviour towards their father that reveals this, it is also the way they lust after Edmund. Eventually, it is the duplicitous Edmund that is the catalyst for the severing of their sisterly affection for each other.

Edmund (Al Bollands) was a suitably suave and simpering son and suitor. Testimony to his ability, it was as though his actions could be understood even if they were horrifically executed and his lies were presented as easily believable. The gulling of Gloucester seems to be done with ease and this poor judgement upon Edgar, with the heavy price upon it, seems to be too hastily accepted. With a commanding stage presence, it was made obvious how the characters Edmund sought to embroil in his plots were easily deceived. His exchanges with Edgar show him at once to be similar to his brother in terms of strength and speech style but also very different as his loyalty lies ultimately to himself. An interesting parallel was that both Edgar and Edmund cut their own left palm at different points in the play; symbolically it is as though they are blood brothers and they are of the same flesh, which is indeed the very bone of contention between them.

Strangely, there seemed to be a greater amount of laughter elicited from the lines throughout the whole production than I had initially expected. Having previously only read the text and examined it as a “tragedy” it is often easy to miss how instances, even though poignant, can also be humorous. I feel that Jos Vantyler deserves a particular mention: his Oswald seemed to have the air of an 80s pop icon which worked wonderfully and he seemed very at home on the stage. His camp attitude while acting as go-between and shrinking from his skirmish with Kent (Andrew Vincent) disguised as a servant provided the audience with light relief and also established a depth to his character.

The blinding of Gloucester (John Branwell) was well enacted and occurred at the back of the stage in a blinding bright light and shrouded in smoke so the audience were given the impression of being close and present but without actually witnessing anything which made it unsettling and effective. In fact, the production used explicit violence minimally (even the fight between Edgar and Edmund at the end was presented in slow motion and more of a choreographed exchange of blows) and this served to enhance the atmosphere as the horror was certainly obvious but not protracted.

Indeed, overall, for this interpretation, words spoke more than actions: considering the power of the language in this play it meant an even greater emotional impact was able to be wrought when the emphasis was not necessarily placed on the visual and the Northern accents helped to establish a very heartfelt portrayal of the destruction of relationships.


You can still catch the production in Newcastle-under-Lyme until mid-June:


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Dr Johann Gregory

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