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OTG's summer 2008 production was As You Like It directed by Joseph Kenneway and performed in Trinity College Gardens. Reviews of the show appeared in the Oxford Times, Daily Information and What's On Stage.
picture from the performance picture from the performance
Paul Tosio, Jessica Welch and Jessica Clare Bridge James Reilly and David Moore
picture from the performance picture from the performance
Colin Ring, Peter Roberts, James Reilly and Colin Burnie Paul Tosio, Sam Knipe, Tim Bearder, Fleur Yerbury-Hodgson, Jessica Clare Bridge and James Reilley
A fuller gallery of pictures from the production is available to view here.

OXFORD TIMES - James Benefield

LAST SEEN performing Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at the Playhouse, The Oxford Theatre Guild change tack somewhat and join the throng of outdoor performances in Oxford with their version of Shakespeare's As You Like It. Performed in the elegant gardens of Trinity College with a large cast, and set in the 1960s, it purports to be an unusual twist to this comedy of love, rejection and mistaken identities.

Although it features one of Shakespeare's most rounded female characters, Rosalind, and some of the Bard's most sparkling dialogue and poetry, As You Like It is performed considerably less often than his nearest comparable plays Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing. It's a romantic comedy, but one that has a melancholy heart, bleeding with rejection and neuroses. The story revolves around Rosalind (Jessica Clare Bridge) who is living in a kingdom tyrannically ruled by Duke Senior (Peter Roberts). The Duke has banished her father and taken over the kingdom.
She falls in love with Orlando (James Reilley), son of a sympathiser of one of the duke's enemies, and both are banished into the forest. Rosalind takes Celia (Jessica Welch), her cousin, with her, and they both assume false identities in the forest, and much chaos ensues, especially when Rosalind meets up with Orlando once more . . .

The company dresses its cast in miscellaneous sixties garb, pipes in music from the period and converts the play's songs into hippy sing-a-longs to recreate the era. Unfortunately this is not enough, and all these changes do seem rather skin-deep. In the programme the director, Joseph Kenneway, does argue his themes; shifting morality, suspicion of power, emancipation of women; but he fails to bring these themes out in the play. Because of this - and because of some particularly flat direction - this production sometimes comes across as lifeless and lacking in imagination. It has the effect of flagging up the longueurs and occasional banalities of the play, which also happens to be one of Shakespeare's least successful romantic comedies.

That said, some of the performances are sparky and enjoyable. Although Jessica Clare Bridge never captures quite the right tone for Rosalind, she is a likeable presence. The supporting cast tend to outshine most of the main players; special praise must be reserved for Sam Knipe as Audrey.
Although enjoyable and watchable enough, this As You Like It fails to really take off and breathe new life into this flawed play. Some solid performances and fun costumes do not make up for a lack of imagination and verve.



IN A LITERAL SENSE, all the world is not a stage. However during the summer months, much of Oxford is, as myriad Shakespeare productions compete for our cultural pounds. One of the longest running groups who put on a production at this time of year are the Oxford Theatre Guild, an organisation with a fine history of providing an outlet for excellent amateur and semi professional actors.

This year, their 'summer spectacular' is the whimsical comedy 'As You Like It', set in the beautiful surroundings of Trinity College. You'll find the entrance on Parks Road, on the left, just down from the Kings Arms – ideal for a pre (and post..) pint, although drinks are available on site. It's one of the Great Bard's more lighthearted efforts, involving an array of young fools falling in love at first sight, cads looking for a bit of cheap nookie, cross dressing, and villains who turn into nice people at the click of a finger.

To my mind, this kind of play is far more suited to a summer evening in Oxford than anything more heavy going, and I'm glad to say that the cast do an excellent job of bringing it to life. In particular, the buffoons of the play are hilarious, as are the roles played by the elder generation. The romantic leads provide less amusement, but the parts are extremely well played by Jessica Clare Bridge and James Reilly (watch out for the WWE-inspired wrestling scene!)

The play is at it's best when providing laughs, and it certainly delivers plenty of these. There may be plenty of choice for those looking for some summer Shakespeare, but 'As You Like It' is as worthy a recipient of your viewing as any other production this season. Tuesday's packed audience left in very high spirits, as should all who attend.


WHATSONSTAGE - Simon Taverner

OOXFORD THEATRE GUILD has been performing in and around Oxford city centre since 1955. They have a reputation as the leading amateur company in the area attracting a wide range of performers – many professionals and soon-to-be professionals have appeared in their productions as well as the best of the local acting fraternity. Each summer they present a 2 week run of a classic play in one of the Oxford college gardens – almost always a Shakespeare (though last year they varied things with The Rivals).

As You Like It – surprisingly given the woodland setting – has not received many productions from the Guild. This is the first in nearly a quarter of a century. Director, Joe Kenneway, has chosen to give the play a vaguely 1960s vibe which is fantastic for the costume designer but perhaps not quite so fitting for the play as a whole. There is always a challenge in maintaining the social structures necessary for the play when seeking to update any of the Shakespeare comedies – you have to still make sense of why there are master/servant relationships. Whilst the 1960s certainly fits in terms of an era where the role of women was changing, the rest of the action seems somewhat shoe-horned into the new setting. For most audience members, this is probably not going to be a major issue – for some, however, it will slightly grate.

Any production of this particular play stands or falls on the casting of Rosalind/Ganymede. Certainly the longest female role in Shakespeare and, in many ways, the most demanding, it is one that is always hotly contested at auditions. It offers so much scope for characterisation and nuance; it is easy to see why so many aspire to play it. Jessica Clare Bridge gives a competent, if somewhat passive, account of Rosalind but does not seem to bring out what I would describe as the playful side of her male alter-ego Ganymede. This transition is always a hard one to judge but I felt that on the evidence of the opening performance, this Ganymede was a little rushed and not as much of a game player as the text would suggest. It is by no means a bad performance – just one that needs further development. Perhaps the most famous lines from the play are uttered by Jaques – here given a precise and delicate performance by Colin Burnie. Burnie knows well how to bring out the texture and meaning from the verse and makes good use of the famous lines. Touchstone – one of Shakespeare’s more tricky clowns – is given a strong rendition by Paul Tosio who brings a vitality that I have not seen before in this particular role. His inventive adoption of the character of a US evangelical preacher in the Act 3 scene with Corin is one of the highlights of the production. Much of the humour in the play is to be found in the scenes with the country folk. This production makes much of Silvius (here a Lennon-esque hippy played with gusto by Tim Bearder), Phebe and Audrey – they have an energy, physicality and broad humour which sets the apart from the rest of the characters.

The cast, on the whole, is made up of people who understand their characters and imbue them with life and passion. Any open air performance – whether amateur or professional – needs to pay careful attention to clarity and diction. All too often I have attended productions where too many words are lost. I know it is hard to battle the elements, church bells and passing traffic – but it is a shame when details that were crystal clear in the rehearsal room fail to translate to the outdoor site. There are cast members in this production who have no problems in making every syllable count (Tim Younger as Oliver is a perfect exemplar of an actor who can always be heard) and there are those who have yet to make the necessary adjustments to their projection. Again this will improve as the run continues. It has long been my belief that As You Like It is much more of a thoughtful play than it might appear on first reading. The central characters are dealing with themes of loss and dislocation amidst an atmosphere of the threat of violence. This can sit uneasily with the bucolic antics of the rustics. Bringing these elements together is a challenge than few productions achieve with total success. I am not sure that this production is one that can truly be said to have found an answer. It is, nevertheless, an entertaining way to spend an evening in the delightful setting of an Oxford College Garden.

Oxford Theatre Guild have nothing to fear from the professional companies who also stage Shakespeare in the city – they more than hold their own and the audiences will be well rewarded for their attention.


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