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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

As You Like It

Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedy is cleverly handled with witty explanatory asides. It's even got a sing-song with Casey Donovan.
By Hilary Simmons
November 28, 2011
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By Hilary Simmons
November 28, 2011
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Rarely do you see a show where actors playing sheep is a highlight. But that's the case with Eamon Flack's production of As You Like It. This is not a disparaging comment, either. Hours of characterisation and workshops must have gone into getting the unperturbed expression of a pastoral sheep perfectly right.

The sheep graze in the Forest of Arden, to which woodland Duke Frederick (Bille Brown) has exiled his older brother, the proper Duke, and his entourage. Frederick is a fiery man and his court's not that much fun, so Duke Senior's daughter Rosalind (Alison Bell) and her cousin Celia (Yael Stone) soon vanish after her father, with Rosalind disguised as a man and Celia dressed as a poor lady. They even take the court jester, Touchstone (Charlie Garber), along for the ride, making Frederick's kingdom assuredly free of laughs from then on. Rosalind's star-crossed suitor, Orlando (Ashley Zukerman), turns up to avoid persecution by his older brother, Oliver (Hamish Michael), and lo! — the stage is set for an extravaganza of cross-dressing and capering.

The arcadian Forest of Arden is a strange place, inhabited by fugitives, shepherds, shepherdesses, curates, lionesses and sheep. Everyone energetically hooks up with everybody else and they all excitedly get the wrong idea about everything — except for the sheep, who remain steadfastly po-faced and implacable.

Director Eamon Flack does a superb job of proving Shakespeare can be silly, slapstick and fun in this production. In 2009, Flack devised a delightful production of Midsummer Night's Dream in Belvoir's Downstairs Theatre; this year, he's been elevated to the Upstairs Theatre space and he makes full use of its idiosyncratic setting.

As You Like It is a classic comedy of Shakespeare's. The original text is cleverly handled with witty explanatory asides, and it's even got a sing-song with Casey Donovan. But go for the sheep; they will make you laugh till you weep.

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