— Lois Anderson (Rosalind) & Orlando (Todd Thomson) in AS YOU LIKE IT at Bard on the Beach 2011. Photo: David Cooper
AS YOU LIKE IT
Bard on the Beach opens its 22nd season in a new, bigger tent with reserved seats that are marginally more comfortable and even feature cupholders. It has a new thrust stage with improved backstage facilities for the actors, better access to entrances and exits, and more lighting positions. What’s constant is the great view across False Creek to the North Shore mountains through the back of the stage, an all-Shakespearean season, and a performance style that’s clear, straightforward and accessible. You don’t want to mess too much with a formula that has proven so hugely successful. So it’s fitting that the opening show is solid from top to bottom but without much of a wow-factor.
The last time Bard staged As You Like It, in 2005, David Mackay was its brilliant Touchstone, the play’s clown. Here Mackay is back as director—with an altogether better production—and he has cast the key roles wisely. Lois Anderson makes a sprightly Rosalind but really hits her stride as Ganymede, crossdressing as a man in the forest of Arden and teaching lovesick Orlando (Todd Thomson) some profound and funny lessons about love. Ryan Beil, one of the only actors in Vancouver who can rival Mackay in comedy, takes the comic reins here as Touchstone and he doesn’t disappoint. Resplendent in golden fool’s motley and a braided blond wig (Mara Gottler’s costumes and wiggery are consistently striking), his courtly Touchstone hilariously mocks the country bumpkins only to fall for Audrey (Amber Lewis), the most bumpkinish gal of all. The other key role in this play is the melancholy philosopher Jaques, whose Seven Ages of Man speech (“All the world’s a stage...”) is always one of its highlights. John Murphy, a rapidly rising star at Bard, looks like an ascetic, hollow-eyed John the Baptist in the wilderness. Murphy avoids the cynicism with which Jaques is often played, offering instead a chillingly depressive view of the proceedings, a masterfully downbeat conclusion to the famous speech, and a rich, dark counterpoint to the play’s self-consciously ridiculous romantic ending.
Foremost among the secondary characters, Luisa Jojic is attractive and energetic as Rosalind’s friend Celia, Duncan Fraser steals a couple of scenes as the courtier Le Beau and a drunken vicar, and Shawn Macdonald makes the shepherd Corin the liveliest fellow in the fields. He also gets the most gasp-inducing moment in the show, skinning a prop rabbit (don’t worry—no real animals are harmed) and revealing its bloody innards.
This is a nice touch, graphically illustrating Shakespeare’s point that Arden is not entirely Eden. But it also made me aware of how restrained the rest of the production is. That’s not a bad thing, but I could have done with a little more exuberance from a director with Mackay’s great comic imagination.