By Samuel J. Cox
As any high school student knows, reading Shakespeare can be heavy going. However, the Black Swan Theatre Company has injected the master playwright’s most famous rom-com with vibrant life.
Part of the pastoral literary tradition, ‘As You Like It’ is very formulaic in that exiles from the ‘painted pomp’ of court life flee to the countryside for refuge, and disguise themselves as shepherds to philosophise with the simple, but honest, locals. When Duke Senior is banished by his brother, he and his loyal followers takes refuge in the Forrest of Ardenne, which exercises its transformative powers upon all those who enter.
Unlike some of Shakespeare’s more renowned works, this play does not teach us that life is sorrow. Playful rather than tragic, the rising action involves a stunningly choreographed wrestling match between two sweat glistening Adonis’, two loyal and giddy cousins, love at first-sight (this is Shakespeare after all), and a ruler as convinced of treachery as Biomedical students are they will get accepted into Medicine. Inevitably, everyone who matters ends up in Ardenne, and, as you would expect when the evil Duke Frederick keeps sending all his enemies to the same place, trouble ensues.
An interesting and enjoyable adaptation, with modern dress and music (e.g. Lorde and Florence + the Machine), the performance sticks with Shakespeare’s antiquated English, which takes time to decipher. It helps that the actors deliver their lines confidently and convincingly. However, once they had mastered the dialogue, they did not have to grapple with particularly challenging roles. The play is packed with minor, undeveloped characters (from the pointless neg Jaques to the simpleton William), which only makes Jovana Miletic’s performance as the delightful, cross-dressing Rosalind more enjoyable. Lively, charming and sweet, Miletic is the star of the show. Embodying her character completely, the show drags when she is not on stage to drive the action. A feminist favourite, Rosalind boldly disguises herself as a young man to escape her wicked uncle, woo her love Orlando, and subvert gender stereotypes.
As the title promises, everyone gets what he or she wants in the neat, if bland, ending. To get there though, the play demands a lot of the audience. Plot twists and turns beggar belief, characters fall in love in an instant, and Duke Frederick eventually abandons his crown and his bloodthirsty ways after a rapid conversion to Christianity.
The stage of the beautiful State Theatre Centre begins as a minimalist, generic lobby. With an accompanying elevator and plush wood panelling (laminated plywood), it seemed somewhat underwhelming after the splendour of the set for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. However, after the first half hour it is dramatically transformed into a magical representation of the Forrest of Ardenne. With trees from floor to ceiling, and falling leaves and knotted trunks, it is magnifique. Christina Smith is a master of set and costume design.
‘As You Like It’ runs until June 1.