As You Like It

Botanic Gardens: The Dell, Wellington

02/02/2007 - 17/02/2007

Production Details

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Vilé and Sue Rider
Choreography for wrestling: Matthew Wilson


The annual Summer Shakespeare has been part of Wellington’s cultural calendar since 1982. It is a community event which every year brings a large cast production of one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays to a wide public. Productions have taken place in courtyards, city gardens, rugby fields and in venues along the Wellington waterfront. The delight of a family outing under the stars in the company of Shakespeare has attracted up to 3000 people for each season since 1982.  For the 25th year celebration Summer Shakespeare is returning to The Dell at the Botanic Garden, thought of as its original home.

As You Like It is set in the Forest of Arden and consequently fits beautifully into the splendid setting of The Dell.

‘It is a big, warm, rollicking piece of celebratory theatre  that can be enjoyed by all ages’.

Craig Geenty
Matthew Wilson
Andrea Stewart
Sabrina Martin
Vincent Wong
Oliver Cox
Georgina Titheredge
Robin Kerr
Aaron Orr
Anna Pearson

Theatre ,

2 hrs 30 mins, incl. 1 interval

Nice light Shakers

Review by Michael Wray 14th Feb 2007

The 2007 Summer Shakespeare season brings us a suitably appropriately seasonal comedy in As You Like It.

It is a story of multiple weddings and the obstacles that must be overcome for them to happen. In typical Shakespearian style, we have a comedy that consists of cross-dressing runaways, usurped power and the unlikely resolution of family grudges. At times it’s like Shakespeare mixed and matched his ingredients, producing a play that is a jack-of-all trades and a master of none. Yet of all of Shakespeare’s plays this one, with its outdoor setting in the Forest of Arden, is possibly one of the best-suited for a cosy sheltered spot in the sunny Botanic Gardens. Summer Shakespeare indeed.

The directors’ notes tell of a "wonderfully mixed company", consisting of more than the usual mix of emerging and student actors. All sorts of occupations are contained within the company, though it is not clear how many make up the crew and how many are on the stage. For the most part, there is no distinguishable loss of professionalism though some performers are inevitably stronger than others.

Craig Geenty revels in the role of Orlando. From Train Ghosts at Bats a couple of years ago, to a solo show in last year’s comedy festival and King and Country in the Arts Festival and now the male lead in Shakespeare. Geenty seems to enjoy trying his hand at very different parts and has yet to be found wanting. He brings a physicality to his performance and his Orlando has verve and energy. This is especially evident in Orlando’s wrestling match with Charles, played by Kiwi Pro Wrestler (!) Matthew Wilson.

The most demanding of the parts falls to Andrea Stewart as Rosalind. Whether playing Rosalind naturally or adopting the exaggerated male posture of Rosalind’s alter-ego Ganymede, she is faultless. Ably supported by the equally strong Sabrina Martin as Celia, the pair are a good team. They make a point of suspending dialogue to stare accusingly at intrusive aircraft bound for Wellington Airport, before resuming when the noise subsides.  It wouldn’t fit a tragedy, but for a comedy it’s a perfect solution and helps engender a sense of camaraderie between the performers and the audience… almost as if they’ve deliberately timed the Air NZ flight plans to coincide with their own scenes.

It was interesting watching Vincent Wong as Touchstone, the clown that accompanies Rosalind and Celia when they run away. In what is probably his biggest role to date, he does not let us down and is developing fast. I look forward to seeing him tested in a role that demands a greater range. Oliver Cox’s rendition of Silvius threatens to upstage everyone. As the love struck shepherd, he plays the role for maximum comedy value chasing and clutching at Georgina Titheredge. The younger children, whose attention wavers throughout the afternoon, love him.

It’s a nice light Shakespeare in a nice light setting. With picnic hampers an option and children admitted for free, how better to spend a lazy sunny afternoon?


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Clear summer’s day in The Dell

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Feb 2007

With pigeons looking for crumbs from picnickers lying on the ground in front of the stage and with a lone morepork calling in the nearby bush in the calm summer’s evening it was easy to be transported to the Forest of Arden and Shakespeare’s enigmatic pastoral vision where people ‘fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world’.

The 25th Summer Shakespeare is back, as the publicity for this play says, where it belongs in the Dell with a straightforward, energetic production of As You Like It which, though it is lacking in subtlety, is a good introduction to the play.

This is, I think, the first Summer Shakespeare production in which every word was crystal clear throughout the entire play, not a sentence was mumbled or tossed casually away as so often happens in amateur productions. There was a tendency, however, to illustrate some of the speeches with over-emphatic physical gestures so that, for example, Jacques’s ‘All the world’s a stage’ became a bit of a mime act.

The physicality of the wrestling scene is excellently handled and had the audience cheering and wincing as the hero Orlando (Craig Geenty) and the villain Charles (Matthew Wilson) threw each other around the stage with convincing throws, holds, and illegal kicks and punches.

Once Shakespeare’s rather meager plot takes us into the forest and the various lovers have to learn what love means the production simplifies the complexities and subtleties that abound. The comedy of the randy Touchstone is played with loose-limbed agility and a comic campness by Vincent Wong as he pursues Anna Pearson’s lively Audrey, while Silvius (Oliver Cox) and Phebe (Georgina Titheridge) are winningly played as a couple country bumpkins in jeans and gingham shirts straight out of Green Acres or Lil’ Abner.

As the central lovers, Rosalind and Orlando, Craig Geenty and Andrea Stewart start as a caricature of a couple of teenagers in love. However, once Rosalind disguises herself as Ganymede and slowly educates Orlando in the meaning of true love, they mercifully grow up. Although it is never clear if Orlando at any point realizes that Ganymede is really Rosalind and plays along with her game, which is surely essential for the comedy as well as Orlando’s “education”, the two actors make an attractive and appealing pair of lovers.

It has been said that the play at a simple level celebrates the pleasure of being unceremonious and the very real joy of a summer’s day in the country. Jim Vilé and Sue Rider and their cast have done just that in the Dell.



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The power of love and forgiveness

Review by John Smythe 05th Feb 2007

Trumpeted as the natural home of Summer Shakespeare, The Dell – and this year’s production, As You Like It – stood up to a rigorous test at the Sunday afternoon performance. Despite a large party of picnickers having no idea how much their chatter intruded, and despite being directly under the flight path of jets and helicopters, The Dell’s acoustics and the cast’s vocal projection proved equal to the challenge.

There were occasions when the cast, responding to reality, stopped and watched the deafening aircraft fly over before resuming the play: a move that helped to bond we mere mortals on the ground in our mutual pursuit of the entertainment at hand.

Directed by Queenslanders Jim Vilé and Sue Rider, As You Like It is simply staged in modern dress and intelligently performed with a clear understanding of character and purpose. While acting talents range from adequate to excellent, nothing impedes the flow of Shakespeare’s treatise on the power of love to conquer all (a reworking of Thomas Lodge’s heavy-going Rosalynde).)

As with all Shakespeare’s comedies, the stakes are high, with threats of capital punishment propelling the misfortunes and fortunes of the central characters. A court steeped in bitter feuding and aggressive self-interest is contrast by the relatively peaceful co-habitation of those who dwell in the Forest of Arden, be they pastoral peasants or banished lords.

The are a couple of mis-steps in the production. It opens with a processional of Ninjas who display their karate moves then disappear, never to be referred to again. If this is the dumb-show prologue to the drama, its meaning escapes me. And given the way of life adopted by the banished lords, the use of camouflage fatigues and jungle patrol moves also seems out of place.

But once the play proper starts it cracks on apace with relaxed but purposeful alacrity. And the wrestling scene between Orlando and Charles (played by Matthew Wilson, who choreographs it) is a genuinely exciting way of igniting true love between Orlando and Rosalind, despite Celia’s notion that she and Rosalind should only play at love for sport.

Craig Geenty’s Orlando sets the tone, giving true voice and body to the words and action without undue embellishment. Having suffered at the hands of his older brother Oliver, he now faces banishment for loving the daughter of the usurping Duke Frederick’s banished enemy, Duke Senior.

Andrea Stewart’s Rosalind, likewise banished, and Sabrina Martin’s Celia – Frederick’s daughter but unwilling to live without Rosalind – revel in their ‘society girls go bush’ adventure, adopting the personae of ‘Ganymede’ and his cousin ‘Alien-a’ to survive.

Robin Kerr’s Duke Frederick and Aaron Orr’s Oliver deliver the much-needed fear and loathing to contrast with the bourgeoning, if mismatched, love lines, vividly drawn by Oliver Cox’ simple shepherd Silvius, besotted over Georgina Titheridge’s shepherdess Phoebe, who only has eyes for ‘Ganymede’, who is coaching Orlando in the art of love while Vincent Wong’s also-banished court clown Touchstone hooks up with Anna Pearson’s earthy Audrey.

The power of love and forgiveness is tested through Orlando’s brave and selfless saving of Oliver’s life which causes him to break a promise to Ganymede, thus putting his future with Rosalind in jeopardy. Because they can see past petty selfishness, Rosalind and Orlando make it through to marriage. And even Oliver, reformed by his experience, proves worthy of a happy match with Celia.

Wong’s onto-it and very tricksy Touchstone, delightful as far as it goes, shows none of the sad clown flip-side common to most Shakespearean fools. Perhaps in this play the contrast is made with the melancholic Jacques – superbly realised by Richard Falkner – who, despite warming to Touchstone and acknowledging the happy outcomes for all the others, can only feel love for his own chronic gloom.

With The Dell an ideal bush setting for the play, it’s a shame the sound effects and music are not naturally generated by the ensemble. The live music and singing, however, are excellent with the duet between Alex Rabina (as Amiens) and Falkner’s Jacques a highlight.

I have no doubt that the passion for Shakespeare, and the intelligent understanding and pleasure with which Summer Shakespeare is now consistently realised in Wellington – and doubtless elsewhere – owes a great deal to the experience students gain through the annual Sheilah Winn Festival of Shakespeare in Schools and the further activities of the Shakespeare Globe Centre (NZ). Long may all of them reign.


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