Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘As You Like It’, which is at Ludlow Castle until Saturday 21st June and then at Stafford Castle from June 29th to July 12th 2014.
There was a lot of rain in Ludlow last night – but I didn’t get wet once. That’s because the whole Shakespeare experience at Ludlow Castle has been completely transformed – for the better.
Gone are the days of soggy seats and rain rattled bin bags; sitting on row Z – unable to see faces or hear words. The new regime has swept all that away and come up with a hugely improved, absolutely audience friendly arrangement.
You walk under the portcullis and through a tented village into a new arena, created in the outer bailey between the inner and outer castle walls. Under a stately copper beech lies a square wooden stage, fully equipped with motorise lighting and ample amplification, and with one thousand tiered and roofed seats on three sides. The stands create a new sense of enclosure and proximity, which permits more intimate, intense and subtle playing. At last, the Ludlow play is brought to your lap.
Director Peter Rowe’s full cast of 14 includes a fair few escapees from Theatr Clwyd’s hilarious annual pantomime who, naturally, present us with a lively, and larger-than-life show. These guys know how to entertain.
Georgina White is just fabulous as Rosalind, morphing from a County Set debutant into a stiff-legged, effeminate Sherlock Holmes. Tall and fair, she is able to switch genders with just a change of posture – and oscillates in courtship from flirting playfulness to hearty passion – like a chameleon on heat. She exploits every comic nuance and every cross-dressing irony and takes to the part as if Shakespeare had written it for her.
Portly Eric Potts is equally marvellous as the red-faced clown Touchstone. Imagine Les Dawson crossed with a renegade 1970s Doctor Who and you’re almost there. The man bounces…physical comedy pouring from him as he wrings every joke out of the Bard’s creaking text. His comedy routine with Audrey (played by Shirley Darroch as a wonderfully wacky Welsh bumpkin) is a treat of over-the-topness. He was wasted on Coronation Street.
The show is set somewhere in the 60s and Arden is a spliff-smoky, tie-dyed peace camp. The centrepiece is an affectionately flower-power decorated milk float which, unlike the Daleks, has yet to conquer steps.
The show is bound, gelled and embroidered with a selection of period protest songs, led by the driving guitars of two more Clwyd faithfuls, Daniel Lloyd and James Haggie. Haggie’s panto pratfalls come in handy when playing a lovelorn rustic – and his aristocratic Monsieur le Beau is as limp as a sachet of French Dressing.
The famous speech “All The World’s A Stage” is suddenly upon us – and John Challis’s ‘Melancholy Jacques’ does it beautifully with light tongue and heavy heart; vocally imitating each of Man’s seven ages with pipes and whistles in his own voice. It’s a lovely moment and well worth the mileage, John.
In short, the Bard is reborn at Ludlow. This is the start of a new era of Shakespearian excellence in South Shropshire and I thoroughly commend it to you. It’s a breath of fresh air … and you won’t catch your death.
Salopians in the north of the county can see the same show when it transfers to Stafford Castle from the 29th June to the 12th of July.