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Sunday, 3 July 2016

As You Like It: Would Have Preferred it Well Done

Robin Hutton as Hymen with members of the company.
Photo by David Hou

As You LikeIt, by William Shakesepare
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Designed by Bretta Gerecke, Leigh Ann Vardy (lights), Don Ellis (sound), John Stead (fights)
Featuring Petrina Bromley, Trish Lindstrom, Cyrus Lane, John Kirkpatrick

Jillian Keiley is known for taking productions and setting them in her native Newfoundland, and this has served her well. Her current trip home however, underserves the play in a myriad of ways.

Her production notes make a case for the Newfoundland setting, saying there was a great rediscovery for outport life in Newfoundland in the 1980’s, but that was not my experience. Places like Trinity, Trinity Bay were not yet tourist destinations or artists’ retreats (Rising Tide Theatre’s Trinity Pageant didn’t come along until 1993) they were tiny villages still slowly dying, in the same danger of becoming derelict as those communities like British Harbour or Ireland’s Eye that had been abandoned in the resettlement movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. At the height of the 80’s, there were 3-4000 people employed in the lumber and pulp and paper industries in Newfoundland – the forest of Arden might have provided an escape for the Duke but it would hardly have been an idyllic one in the mid 80’s.

So, as delightful it was to hear that this unique culture might be celebrated on a stage as illustrious as the Stratford Festival, I am also quite aware of the incongruities. The vision is not convincing - the setting is completely asquish for the play. 

What is sad is that it might have been, if Keiley had followed through with this vision from start to finish. But instead of immersing the play in the culture, there are half-hearted attempts. Brookfield ice-cream and Carnation milk only go so far. Changing some text from lion to lynx is fine, but call the feast a boil-up, refer to Oliver as the bullamanque he is, call Jaques a glawvawnin’ CFA, get Charles and Orlando in a real crum. Orlando and Adam are leary, Rosalind is all mops and brooms for Orlando, Audrey is a sweet gommel. If you’re going to change some text, you might as well go for the whole quintal of fish.

The other framing device, inserting the new character of Hymen (only referred to briefly at the end in the play’s text), as your evening’s emcee is playfully wrought (thank-you, Robin Hutton) but does a disservice to the strength of Rosalind’s wit – instead of seeing something of worth in Orlando and holding her own with him, we instead see Hymen making the match almost for her own amusement. Cyrus Lane as Orlando is also underserved by this – starting out nobly, his portrayal quickly becomes a bit of a scumpshy; there is nothing there that would attract a mind or heart of one of Shakespeare’s smartest heroines.
Keiley also makes the audience complicit in her shenanigans; props are handed out to audience members, turning them into a forest, the starry night, a vegetable garden, a meadow, the sky, and an ocean (there is no body of water in the text larger than a brook, by the way). A part of Newfoundland’s “participatory culture”, we are meant to understand, but distracting, noisy and an ultimately gimmicky way around building an actual set on stage. Half the gimmicks would have far more effective for her point.
L-R: Cyrus Lane as Orlando, Trish Lindstrom as Celia,
Petrina Bromley as Ganymede/Rosalind. Photo by David Hou.

Enough glawvawning. Chops must go to actors who embrace a direction that subverts the text as a whole, and Petrina Bromley (Rosalind) and Trish Lindstrom (Celia) shine in this production.  They show the girls as true friends, almost turning the story into a two-hander buddy play. Ms. Bromley makes the most convincing Ganymede, giving the character a real bay-boy vibe, while Ms. Lindstrom’s Celia never really loses her taffety ways to hilarious effect.  And while the distinct Newfoundland accent (there are many, actually) is barely present with or completely ignored by most actors, Ms. Lindstrom not only replicates a decent townie accent, she carries it consistently. Ms. Bromley’s accent gets distinctly thicker as Ganymede, as only a Newfoundland actor could manage.  They make a great team, truly caring and funny. Other notable performances include John Kirkpatrick as a slick then completely disarming Oliver, who is far, far cleverer than his brother, and Antoine Yared as a rather excitable LeBeau (the French-Canadian accent was a diverting surprise). Seana McKenna’s is a low-key Jaques, though there is compelling subtext with which to work, as a world-weary photo-journalist looking for some peace in idyllic Newfoundland.

Growing up in the 1980’s in small-town and even smaller-village Newfoundland, I was aware of OZFM’s Dawn Patrol, banana clips and acid-washed jeans. I’d heard of Figgy Duff and Ryan’s Fancy, occasionally watched Land and Sea with my parents and local theatre aside, was hooked on Shakespeare when a travelling group brought an Edwardian production of Much Ado About Nothing to town, not an audience prop in sight. High school students are sure to love the pantomime in Ms.Keiley’s As You Like It, and maybe that’s what attracts a new generation of Shakespeare lovers. This current Shakespeare lover doesn’t think it was necessary at all, but it’s however you decide to like it.

As YOU Like It continues in repertory until October 22 at the Festival Theatre. 

Company members in As You Like It. Photo by David Hou.

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