“All the world’s a stage.”
Lockdowns are over and theatre is back! Melbourne Theatre Company’s triumphant return to the stage is with William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, As You Like It. Generally, I adore Shakespeare and it’s unbelievable how incredibly moving, poetic, and relevant his works still are, centuries after his passing. While it is obvious that Shakespeare’s plays have been done time and time again, it is always interesting when someone has a new take.
Director Simon Phillips is the latest to bring As You Like it to the stage, marrying the show together with music and lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall. Starring Christie Whelan Browne in the iconic role of Rosalind/Ganymede, MTC’s As You Like It feels different than any other iteration that I’ve seen of the Shakespearian classic.
For those new to the story, As You Like It has various characters, but its major conflict consists of Orlando (James MacKay) fleeing court life to live in the Forest of Arden, escaping his unkind brother Oliver (Chris Ryan), and the anger of Duke Frederick (Shivantha Wijesinha). The object of his affections, Rosalind (Christie Whelan Browne), is banished by the same duke, who is also her uncle and father to her cousin, Celia (Georgia Flood). Celia is unable to undo the banishment of her dear best friend and so, the two decide to take on new identities, running away to coincidentally, the same forest. Rosalind is now known and disguised as ‘Ganymede’, a male youth, which is fine, until she meets the love of her life while under the guise of a man. Naturally, chaos ensues.
I love it when stage productions begin pre-show. As the audience rolled in, two characters were already on stage, tending to a garden. It’s the little details of MTC’s As You Like It that I thoroughly enjoyed. From Orlando’s love letters scattered across the Forest of Arden, to the petals gracefully falling onto the cast from above, everything has been thoughtfully and carefully crafted for this production. The set and costume designs by Alicia Clements are divine, the characters are stunning in their white and gold outfits, but the true champion of Clements’ work would be the lush, green, and gorgeous Forest of Arden itself.
The performances by the cast were impressive and consist of the best talent that money can buy. Chris Ryan’s vocals and performances as both balladeer, Amiens and Orlando’s brother, Oliver were so captivating, I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he was on stage. Georgia Flood’s portrayal of Celia is great, with Celia appearing small and merely a support for Rosalind at first, but this all changes when Celia is free to be herself in the Forest of Arden, transforming into a sexy, confident woman with a set of solid pipes to match.
The chemistry between James MacKay and Christie Whelan Browne as their respective characters, Orlando and Rosalind/Ganymede appeared very convincing and felt very natural. I loved their cheeky and cute exchanges, and found it hard to believe that this is MacKay’s MTC debut. MacKay’s Orlando is the ruggedly handsome underdog we all want to root for. However, the star of the show would hands down be Christie Whelan Browne, showcasing her natural comic timing and infectious sass as Rosalind, and as Rosalind pretending to be ‘Ganymede’. I loved her duality, and the boyish-like poses she made when pretending to be Ganymede, sneakily bringing a smile to my face several times throughout the production. Special mention to Richard Piper who is always flawless in whatever role he takes on. I dearly loved his character Adam, who is like a grandfather to the young Orlando with his undying loyalty and support.
The songs in MTC’s As You Like It are also beautiful and pleasing on the ears, however, lyrically there is an obvious contrast between Shakespeare’s words and those of Nuttall and Miller-Heidke, and the placing of these songs within the production break down the tension that Shakespeare’s play so artfully constructs. I found myself waiting for the songs to end, so that the dialogue of Shakespeare’s work could continue.
MTC’s As You Like It is a welcome return to the Melbourne stage. Simon Phillip’s adaptation of the Shakespeare classic is incredibly bold, charming, and cleverly ambitious. As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies with many recognisable quotes, but the music and direction added serious tones to the production, detracted from Shakespeare‘s words, and the laughs weren’t as forthcoming.
Although MTC’s As You Like It may not be the best introduction to William Shakespeare’s work, if you are a seasoned theatre veteran or desire to see a different interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, you will have no trouble appreciating this show.
Melbourne Theatre Company‘s As You Like It is now playing until the 18th of December at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner. The show runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes, including an interval.
For more information and ticketing, visit: https://www.mtc.com.au
Photography by Jeff Busby.