Review: As You Like it
Image curtesy Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
A timeless story of chance encounters.
Forced from their homes, Orlando, Duke Senior, his daughter Rosalind and niece Ceila, escape to the Forest of Arden, a fantastical place where all are welcomed and embraced.
Lost amidst the trees, they find community and acceptance under the stars …
This UK premiere sees more than one hundred community members, professional actors, and performance groups from across London, come together for this magical tale of faithful friends, feuding families and lovers in disguise.
With a score ranging from calypso to pop, Broadway to soul, fall under love's spell for a landmark moment in the history of Queen's Theatre Hornchurch and London's summer theatre for 2019, not to be missed!
Following triumphant performances of Pericles at the National Theatre in summer 2018, the next Public Acts production, a musical adaptation of As You Like It, heads to Hornchurch.
Public Acts community partners:
Body & Soul
Bromley by Bow Centre
The Faith & Belief Forum
Queen's Community Group
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
So go Shakespeare's famous words from As You Like It.
It's a powerful analogy that takes on an extra layer of powerful symbolism here because this production is performed by an inclusive cast of all ages, combining people who have never performed before with professional actors.
The production marks the European premiere of this musical interpretation of As You Like It adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery, with Shaina Taub also supplying the musical compositions and lyrics.
The venture is part of a nationwide initiative called Public Acts which aims to make "artistically excellent, ambitious and inclusive participatory theatre in partnership with organisations who share [a] vision of theatre as a force for change".
It's the result of an impressive two-year partnership between the National Theatre and Queen's Theatre Hornchurch and eight other organisations (listed above in the background information) who work with local communities.
What we see in this performance, then, is just the tip of a very large iceberg of hard work, co-operation and communal effort that has involved building relationships though workshops, reunions, theatre trips and much else besides.
The Queen's Theatre's artistic director, Douglas Rintoul, takes charge in delivering this modernised, musical interpretation of As You Like It to the stage, typically undaunted by the audacious scale of the task.
For, in a captivating climax, we find a stage packed with well over 100 performers, and even more dotted around the auditorium too - including some stunning drummers from Dhol Academy.
Shakespeare's original words are still much in evidence as is the overall structure of the story.
The song lyrics provide the modernity, though some of the compositions seem to pay homage, at least to some degree, to the music of Shakespeare's own times.
Many of Shaina Taub's compositions are deceptively simple but allow the large ensemble to produce rousing choruses with consummate and impressive ease, as well as infectious enthusiasm.
There's a fun and tightly orchestrated wrestling scene with an electrifying refrain that proves one of the show's highlights.
Hayley Grindle's design sensibly opts for simplicity given the need to manoeuvre large numbers of people around the stage, some of them in wheelchairs.
But there are ample splashes of vibrant colour in the costumes department to complement and contrast with the green hues of the Forest of Arden.
The cast are well-led by talented professionals of the likes of Linford Johnson as Orlando, Beth Hinton-Lever as Jaques, and Ebony Jonelle as Rosalind who all turn-in polished performances and provide some fine singing.
And Douglas Rintoul deserves much praise for taking on this immense challenge, producing a show that ranks with the venue's many excellent productions in terms of artistic ambition, augmented here by a novel approach to theatre-making.
Celebratory whoops and cheers from the cast, making their way back to the temporary dressing rooms at the rear of the theatre, underline the significance of this production and say much more than I can about its true value.
For this bold and brave production demonstrates not only the joy of communal performance, but signals the power of participatory theatre - to unify members of the community, help them face and conquer fears and achieve something uniquely worthwhile and memorable.
And the audience gets the privilege of watching a fun and joyously entertaining show that also proves inspirational and rather affecting too.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
Our show listing for As You Like it
Read our reviews' policy