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As You Like It – Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Phillip Wilson

Composer and Musical Director: Jon Nicholas

Reviewer: Abbie Rippon

This year Storyhouse has brought three classic tales to Chester’s summer open air season, and what other way to while away a summer evening than enjoying the revelries of the Forest of Arden watching the bards classic As You Like It with a glass of prosecco in hand?

As You Like It, tells the story of Rosalind and Celia, two cousins who have grown up together in Celia’s father’s kingdom after Rosalind’s father was banished. After Rosalind’s banishment, the pair run away to the forest of Arden with Celia disguising herself as a peasant and Rosalind, in true Shakespearian fashion, as a man named Ganymede.

The taletakes many twists and turns as members of the court find themselves in the company of shepherds and other rural folk and, as with all good Shakesperian comedies, Celia and Rosalind’s disguises lead to many a fiasco. But you can probably guess that it will all work out for the best in the end.

This production at Grosvenor Park gets off to a somewhat clunky start and takes a fair few scenes to find its feet and for the actors to find their balance. Once the scene shifts to the Forest of Arden, however, the play is starting to flow comfortably and both the audience and performers are relaxing into it more. Charlotte Miranda-Smith as Celia grows throughout the show portraying a very endearing, fun loving and likeable character. The fools Touchstone and Jaques played by Ben Tolley and John Seaward contrasted beautifully with Seaward adding an aura of uncomfortable introversion to Jaques contrasting Tolley’s extroverted and often crude comedy which is performed as a witty exchange between himself and his handheld puppet (the partner in crime to many of his jokes).

The bucolic and pastoral Arden has been made ever-more colourful in this production with its array of local bumpkin characters, and its songs and music composed by Jon Nicholas. Hatty Preston has to have a mention as Audrey the goat herd. Her physical comedy is excellent and despite taking on what is regarded as a very minor character, she makes a wonderful comic impression on the audience who are rolling with laughter at her performance.

The odd performance in the cast is overplayed; despite the performance being outdoors this is quite an intimate theatre and there are moments when either annunciation or actions are layered on a little too thick. But all in all the majority of the actors are engaging and the direction has given the play a nice energy and pace to it.

Designer Jess Curtis has included some lovely twists in her concept. The majority of the set is a collection of chairs which depict every setting including being balanced in formations on top of each other to create trees, at another point they are circled creating a campfire, and so on. The costumes contrast well between court and country turning from silken gowns and suits to layered, earthy peasant chic. In the wedding scene at the end of the play the cast are decked in traditional Morris Dancers rag coats. The design, along with the music and ensemble of country folk makes the audience feel a real sense of what it is like to live in and be a part of forest life.

This production after a slightly lumbering and overexerted start soon finds it feet and makes an enjoyable evening’s entertainment. You can bring a picnic or treat yourself to the refreshments on offer – if you are in the Chester area, the open air theatre is definitely worth a visit.

Runs until 21st August 2016

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Rustic revelry

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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