As You Like It, by William Shakespeare | Directed by Peter Evans

Bell Shakespeare | Sydney Opera House Playhouse, Sydney | Until 28 March | Also touring to Canberra and Melbourne

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s lighter romps, with a touch of angst to beef up the romance and humour. Peter Evans’ direction of this current Bell Shakespeare production holds few surprises, but it’s a fun start to the 2015 season.

When Orlando (Charlie Garber) is diddled out of an education and entitlement by older brother Oliver (Dorje Swallow), he does what any frustrated youth might do — fling himself into a wrestling match.

Rosalind (Zahra Newman) is also having family troubles. Her father, Duke Senior (appropriately played by Alan Dukes) has been banished by his brother, Duke Frederick (also played by Alan Dukes. Confused yet?). When she witnesses Oliver win the wrestling match, she is instantly smitten.

Duke Frederick believes Rosalind is a bit of a loose cannon treason-wise, and banishes her too — but his daughter Celia (Kelly Paterniti) chooses to hang out with Rosalind and goes along for the trip. Deciding that two young women tripping around a forest might be a bit risky, Rosalind disguises herself as a young man (Ganymede) and Celia becomes his sister Aliena. Court Jester Touchstone (Gareth Davies) joins the pair. Into the Forest of Arden they go.

The forest starts to get a little crowded as Orlando also makes a tree change to get away from Oliver. When he meets ‘Ganymede’, a friendship is struck and Orlando agrees to some lessons in love — from his love in disguise.

Add in a few more love matches and mismatches, a reconciliation between brothers, a family reunion, and a smattering of weddings, and As You Like It rounds off with a hey-nonny-no-holds-barred dance party.

Garber plays the romantic Orlando impeccably, and Newman is a feisty and strong Rosalind, but their passion fell short of complete conviction. They seemed better suited as the pals they are before ‘Ganymede’ reveals ‘his’ true identity.

As always, Davies’ humour and timing is spot on. Frankly, I think he could probably recite a school tuckshop menu and it would be hilarious. So perhaps I’m biased. Like Bell himself, doubling as Jacques and an outrageous Le Beau, whenever Davies was on stage there was a definite lift in energy.

Emily Eskell, Abi Tucker, George Banders and Tony Taylor round out this fine ensemble cast. Taylor’s deadpan turn as Adam deserves particular mention.

Composer Kelly Ryall throws in some musical interludes, largely performed by Tucker. Her voice, aided by interesting effects, is powerful and slightly other worldly. While these do not always merge smoothly with the action, Tucker herself is really quite mesmerising.

The transition to the Forest of Arden was cleverly executed, an unravelling of ropes adorned with colourful flowers suspended across the stage. However, the accompanying underscore of bells and chimes quickly became intrusive to the point of irritation.

Minor issues aside, As You Like It has much to enjoy if you focus your gaze on the forest, rather than the trees.

All images: ©Rush

Zahra Newman.

John Bell, Gareth Davies, Kelly Paterniti, Zarah Newman.

Charlie Garber, Zarah Newman.