Custom Practice, the London-based theatre company who aim to create ‘arresting productions of new and classical works’, have come up trumps with this engaging modern dress romp through a work first performed around 1600, and which has always had mixed reactions from critics.
Its story is slight, for sure: two cousins, Rosalind and Celia, banished from court, find their way to the Forest Of Arden, where all is not what it seems (particularly Rosalind, dressed as handsome youth ‘Ganymede’) – and everyone falls in love with the wrong person. Detractors maintain that the plot is almost abandoned by Act Two, filled instead by comic interludes and songs. The charge is that there’s no real sense of fun – or danger.
Yet this pacy production, with a 13 strong cast, feels fresh and exciting, making light work of the text, and injecting a welcome soapy, sitcom feel into some of the scenes. Directed by Rae McKen, with an original score by Ed Lewis, the story gallops along, aided by joyous performances (especially from Rebeccca Loudon as Rosalind) which dissipate any difficulties the audience may have with the original language.
A pleasing physicality pervades the production, from bawdy crotch-grabbing (particularly by Lorenzo Martelli’s not-very-witty Touchstone) to well-choreographed wrestling scenes and the atmospherically staged closing dance.
Having not seen the play for years (since studying English at university) it was nostalgic to hear again so many rich, wonderful lines, such as the melancholic Jacques’ ‘Seven Ages Of Man’: ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…’
Other things we liked? The country folk’s Welsh accents, Koko Kamara’s singing voice, Rebecca Loudon’s wordplay and banter with Oliver Mott’s Orlando. A minor gripe? Some of the scenes seemed to cling to the stage-floor, obscuring visibility if you’re sitting a few rows back (as we were).
As we’ve said before, The Lion & Unicorn is a theatre worth supporting. There was barely a spare seat on our visit, and the room had the atmosphere of a smaller Soho Theatre. Even better, you can take a bottle of wine in to enjoy as you watch but be warned, it’s mighty hot in there: dress lightly.
Have you seen it yet?