Theatre Review: As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Richard Keightley (Jaques), Matthew Mellalieu (Touchstone), Alex Parry (Duke Senior), Josie Dunn (Phebe), Matthew Darcy (Amiens). Photo by Keith Pattison.

By Ken Powell

Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake’s penultimate production for the summer season is easily their most lavish play of the year; appropriately so for this much-loved and oft quoted classic by Shakespeare.

With a huge cast and even bigger staging, the imaginative re-shaping into the modern world of politicians gave a visual and aural treat which really isn’t to be missed. The whole experience is impressive and almost overwhelming in its audacity.

Although a comedy, TBTL starts the play menacingly and, quite literally, black. The contrast with the end is palpable – you feel, during the course of the story, that a weight has been lifted from your chest.

The tale of jealousy, corruption, mistaken desire and true love is, of course, nothing new. Nevertheless, the cast bring Shakespeare’s words alive and make it their own. As much as anything, it’s clear they’re having such fun! You can’t help but laugh.

Although not all the cast members are equally strong, it’s still difficult to pick out the best. They’re such a diverse team. My personal favourite was Josie Dunn whose main role was as Phebe, the irritable local girl who has caught and spurned the heart of shepherd boy Silvius. Given a tantalisingly short glimpse of her talents in After the Dance, I was pleased to see her take a more significant role here. Her musical skills are superb and character just shines out of her eyes. A real joy to watch.

My other favourite is probably Matthew Mellalieu, also seen in After the Dance, who plays two roles. His part as Touchstone, the roguish joker playing against Mathew Darcy in drag as Audrey, is a laugh-out-loud pleasure. Mellalieu exudes niceness in his roles.

Niceness is perhaps the key word for this production, Despite the ominously dark beginning, this play is full of light and joy. If only a magical forest could solve our political problems in the real world and refresh our spirits, what a find that would be. Until then, TBTL will have to do.

‘As You Like It’ plays in the Main House until 4 November. Book tickets online at www.theatrebythelake.com or call the box office on 017687 74411. 

Jessica Hayles (Rosalind), Matthew Mellalieu (Touchstone), Layo-Christina Akinlude (Celia). Photo by Keith Pattison.