Thurs 24th February - Sat 26th February & Thurs 3rd March - Sat 5th March 1977
Directed by Ingrid Corrigan
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.
'As You Like It' is one of Shakespeare's pastoral comedies, believed to have been written c1599 and first published in the folio of 1623. The play is set in a duchy in France, but most of the action takes place in the fictional Forest of Arden. As the play begins, Frederick has usurped the Duchy and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior. The Duke's daughter Rosalind has been permitted to remain at court because she is the closest friend and cousin of Frederick's only child, Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman of the kingdom who has fallen in love at first sight of Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Frederick becomes angry and banishes Rosalind from court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee together accompanied by the follows Rosalind as she flees to find safety and eventually love.
This play was staged under Bench Theatre's original company name of Theatre Union, at their theatre in West Street. It was actually the building in West Street, Havant where most of the Company's early plays were staged, which was called the Bench Theatre (after its prior use as a magistrates' court). The company's name was changed gradually by word of mouth and general usage between the years 1973 - 1977 when reviewers, and then members themselves, gradually stopped referring to Theatre Union and started calling the company of players 'Bench Theatre'. The new Company name of Bench Theatre was adopted in to all the promotional literature after they moved from the old theatre (which had been their home for nearly 7 years) in to the Old Town Hall building in East Street.
While the first six performances of this production were staged at the Bench Theatre, the company was chosen as one of six amateur companies from the Southern Arts area to perform at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton and a performance was given there on 19th April as part of "Play Away" week.
|Duke Senior||John Scadding|
|Duke Frederick||John Scadding|
|Le Beau||Spokey Wheeler|
|Jacques de Boys||Derek Cusdin|
|Sir Oliver Martext||Derek Cusdin|
|A Masquer representing Hymen||Spokey Wheeler|
|First Lord||Brian Sweatman|
|Stage Managers||Sharon Rose |
|Lighting||Peter Orford |
|Front of House||Peter and Jill Duncan|
The problem with presenting a Shakespeare play is preventing the director 'over-producing'. The plays in many instances so familiar to us that the director is sorely tempted to search for an 'original' angle or exploit a pet theme and hang it loosely on the play that Shakespeare wrote. To avoid this we began work on 'As You Like It' without any preconceptions of what the play would finally look like. We deliberately avoided laying down a firm costume scheme for the play but encouraged the actors to find a costume which was comfortable and reflected their own knowledge of the inner workings of the character they were portraying. Shakespeare's actors played in Elizabethan costume and it is interesting to note that our own actors chose everyday clothes familiar to themselves and a contemporary audience.
As a policy we decided from the outset to use only a small company and employ some of the cast in playing more than one part. None of the cast have been able to limit themselves to a small part of the play, but have involved themselves in the whole.
Above all we have avoided introducing any 'magic' in either set or effects. Admittedly the theatre we work in is prohibitive in this respect but our desire was to find and use the real magic of the play in the lines that Shakespeare wrote.
A change is hardly a rest for the cast of 'As You Like It' at the Bench Theatre, Havant. Several of the cast take on two - or more- roles and swop characters as easily as they change costume. It is happily, a straightforward production of Shakespeare's comedy, without gimmicks or set changes, and with the minimum of props and simple modern costumes which allow the cast to concentrate on, as they put it: "The real magic of the play in the lines that Shakespeare wrote."
On the whole, the Theatre Union succeeds, although not all the comic potential is exploited. The cast gives the production a pace which rarely flags, which is helped enormously by carefully worked out movements - including a fight sequence and wedding dance which use every inch of the limited space in the tiny theatre. The character changes might leave those unfamiliar with the play slightly confused and fumbling with their programme notes, but it allows the versatility of the cast to shine through.
Peter Corrigan who first strides on in track suit and training shoes as the wrestler, Charles with muscles rippling, is later superb as doddering, sardonic Jaques. Excellent too, is Spokey Wheeler, who slips easily into the more straightforward role of Amiens, after appearing as the scheming and affected Le Beau. These two and others in the cast provide solid support for our hero and heroine, Rosalind and Orlando, played perfectly by Jill Sawyer and David Penrose. It is nice to see an amateur company which does not depend solely on two talented lead players while the rest gabble their lines and cannot get off stage quickly enough. Any comment would be incomplete without a mention of Janet Simpson's portrayal of the country wench, Audrey. With hardly a line in the play, she brings the house down from the moment she first appears in outsized wellington boots, nibbling at raw onion and carrot. What she lacks in words, she more than makes up for in facial expression, as she giggles, nudges and winks her way through her romantic encounter with Touchstone.
It is a play well worth seeing so long as you do not mind the lingering smell of raw onion. There are further performances tonight and tomorrow at 7:30, and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week.