MATE Productions‘ As You Like It has toured outdoor venues outside Merseyside and even took part in the RSC’s Open Stages performances for community groups in Stratford this summer. In partnership with Shakespeare North, the shows at the company’s base of Prescot may have meant the most of all – and the town’s support was apparent, lending twists and surprises to this production to impress even the most weary outdoor theatre reviewer.
With strong lead performances, excellent ensemble scenes and delightful musical accompaniment throughout, this As You Like It would have shone in any setting. But a promenade element to the play in Prescot saw things taken to a whole new level, with scenes set not only around the grounds of the church, but also actually inside, the audience sat in the pews as Rosalind made her entrance, and later observing the spectacle of a full-on choreographed wrestling match to boot. Finally, we were led to the Forest of Arden, a wooded area that was simply perfect for watching the rest of the comedy unfold.
A tale of nobility in exile and lovers in disguise, its sizeable cast of characters is ideal for this sort of company, and such a large-scale undertaking proved a creative challenge for director Gaynor La Rocca to tackle with relish.
Robyn Madison and Ewan Politt (pictured) were an adorable and engaging Rosalind and Orlando; Dominic Davies was at turns menacing and contrite as Oliver; and Robert Clement-Evans had real stage presence doubling up as each of the Dukes. Orlando’s elderly manservant Adam became Anna for this production, to accommodate MATE Vera Farrell, who turned 80 during the tour. As musical directors and on-stage musicians, Taran Harris and Aimee Maria Harris set the scenes most aptly, and appeared to be having a ball. The costumes and set design were of notable quality, too.
The play itself is lengthy, and slow to come to its inevitable conclusion – the final acts of As You Like It feature a seemingly endless succession of two-hander scenes advancing the eventually heavily-signposted plot, and although these were handled competently and with charm, it was the rousing ensemble scenes that gave this production so much of its atmosphere and energy. Still, all-in-all, MATE’s As You Like It proved a thoroughly delightfully immersive experience, offering a welcoming, accessible, feelgood slice of The Bard in a genuinely unique setting.