Summer is well and truly here and with the long days and lighter nights, theatre begins its brief migration to the outdoors. Outdoor theatre has become something of a staple for the British summer time, and when it comes to the outdoor theatre circuit, Shakespeare is a firm favourite. With many of his comedies set in the pastoral landscapes of Europe, the Bards work lends itself beautifully to an outdoor setting. It is not hard to see why theatre companies are keen to bring their productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It to outdoor venues, but the challenge now has become about how to make your production stand out within the crowds of other such shows. How can your Rosalind differ from any other, and can you make Touchstone’s jokes any more raucous or relevant than another theatre company’s? It’s a tough ask for any theatre company, but Apricity Theatre meet the challenge with their usual verve.
Directed by Matilda Dickinson, with assistant direction from CJ Turner-McMullan, the mischievous levity of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It is given an overtly queer re-telling. Or rather, this adaptation does not shy away from the queerness that has always existed in this delightful comedy. With a cast of all women and non-binary actors, we are taken on a journey through the forest of Arden as Rosalind (played by Ebony Cassie) and Celia (played by Tiffany Rhodes) escape persecution, find love and, most importantly, find themselves. I was lucky enough to see the show in the beautifully bijou setting of Trowbridge Town Hall’s Sensory Garden, and this cleverly landscaped patch of greenery was the perfect backdrop for this interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy.
This was a truly charming take on a play which could very easily fall back into the comforts of traditional productions. Bringing a different twist to Shakespeare that works cohesively with the sumptuous text is an enormous challenge, but for the most part, Apricity Theatre’s As You Like It injects a vibrant freshness to this four centuries old play. The ensemble cast are a delight to watch, with particular credit to Alice Victoria Tripp and Tiffany Rhodes’ comedic skills; Tripp’s Touchstone was a perfect mashup of saucy and blunt, while Rhodes stole almost every scene as Orlando’s elderly servant, Adam, and indeed as the passionate Celia. Ebony Cassie brings a depth and warmth to Rosalind, who is so often played as earnestly witty, but in Cassie’s interpretation, is given a more rambunctious humour and strength. While certain aspects of the show felt a little misjudged – Celia’s court costume not fitting the actor seemed to undermine the play’s body positivity concept – this was a highly enjoyable evening. With catchy songs – written by Matilda Dickinson and composed by Finn MacNeil – that had the audience foot stomping along, bats fluttering aloft as the twilight drew in, and delicious food being shared between the picnicking audience, the entire experience of this show felt like the perfect way to spend a summer evening.