Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Black Swan's As you like it.

Several members saw the WA State Theatre's production of one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedies. Frances Dharmalingam gives us her impressions.

Jovana Miletic as Rosalind. (Image by Rob Frith)
The recent Black Swan State Theatre’s production of As You Like It was at least the fourth professional performance I have seen (apart from a student show in which I participated) and this was certainly the one which provoked in me the most frequent outbursts of real laughter – not just silent chuckles.

This version was not just modernised.  It was right up to the minute, and I was amazed at how easily it was delivered in 21st century idiom.  Corin the shepherd (Greg McNeill) provided a notable example, expressing his comfortable aphorisms in the voice of an outback Aussie farmer.

One of the delights of the whole performance was the clarity of the actors’ diction and their impeccable phrasing.  Not a word or a subtlety was lost.  The characters were strikingly individual, and their energetic portrayals were effectively supported by the clever and amusing costumes.

Le Beau (Brendan Hanson) made use of every possible innuendo in his lines, but managed to do so without offence, and created an unforgettable character out of one who normally fades rapidly from the memory.  Similarly, Phoebe (Cecelia Peters): a very pert little miss flouncing about on terrifyingly high shoes.  Her exit through the forest, off to write a stinging rebuke to Ganymede, was stunningly funny (even though the accompanying music went right past me: I’m not well acquainted with current pop music).  Then there was Audrey (Caitlin Beresford-Ord) with her extraordinary fidgety gestures perfectly suggestive of her excitement at Touchstone’s proximity, and her extraordinary contortions while locating and eliminating a flea.

This is not to suggest that the supporting players outshone the main performers.  The three young leads had energy, charm, humour and intelligence in abundance.  Orlando (James Sweeney) began the play with a style which set the tone for the evening. He dealt skilfully with the long opening speech, evoking more laughs than I would have thought possible in what is essentially necessary background information.

Rosalind (Jovana Miletic) and Celia (Grace Smibert) were delightful as best-friend schoolgirls and grew to lovely maturity in the course of the play. Celia was a more assertive character than sometimes depicted.  Her ‘forest’ costume of smart riding breeches and boots emphasised her self-confidence while in no way reducing her femininity. Rosalind on the other hand looked convincingly boyish and adopted an amusingly gangling walk, while never letting us lose sight of her essentially female nature. Her transformation at the end, revealing herself as daughter to the old Duke, and lover to Orlando, was delicately charming, and she brought the performance to a perfect conclusion with her handling of the epilogue.

Other highlights – and there were many – included the brilliantly choreographed wrestling match and the beautiful forest setting.  Although the bursts of recorded modern music were no doubt well chosen to enhance the point of particular scenes,  they meant little to me; but I enjoyed Brendan Hanson’s live singing (as Amiens) which set the quietly nostalgic mood for the exiles in the woodland.

This performance was a happy interpretation of a well-loved comedy.