Saturday 23 June 2018

As You Like It is a whimsical wonderfest of Beatles songs
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Shakespeare scholar A. L. Rowse declares AYLI to be "pure comedy, with a pastoral background, and a few touches of more serious intent". In the hands of Director Daryl Cloran it retains those qualities. But it jumps from the Elizabethan woodlands of Warwickshire to Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley in the 60's. Its primary conceit is that it includes 25 Beatles's songs. Says Mr. Cloran, "I have cut a lot of Shakespeare's text to make room for the songs. The Bard's story comes alive through song, as the characters find themselves in the woods where emotions can no longer be contained by words alone." 

AYLI is a tale of two sets of brothers (in each, one is squarely on the outs with their mendacious sibling), two girl cousins born the same day who love each other like twin sisters, a clown, some hippie lamb shepherds, omnipresent Billy Bard cross-dressing that kick-starts a bit of accidental homoerotica, and the end where four couples are joined in matrimony by Hymen, the god of marriage.

The troupe of As You Like It belts out "Love, Love, Love" to close the show.
Photo credit : Tim Mathewson

Who gonna like : Faithful readers will observe that this is normally the final section in a typical BLR review. But not for this show. This is truly My Oh My! theatre that Vancouver is blest to have. While the gruesome but crisply-engaged Macbeth has 25+ performances left in its run into September, AYLI with mainly all the same actors has 50 shows remaining after last night's opening. I heard one patron (avec Bard nametag) allow as how this was his 3rd trip already : the dress rehearsal + one preview before last night. No wonder.

Since BLR's launch in Spring 2012, I have had the pleasure to see more than 250 Greater Vancouver performances. With not even a soup├žon of hesitation, I say AYLI is the most imaginative and awesome big-stage musical production I have seen over these past years. 

Its creator Daryl Cloran has done an astonishing job of rendering Shakespeare 100% accessible, even to folks who don't generally prefer the Bard's oblique and often-tricky dialogue. As a prim octogenarian ordering up a tea at intermission properly noted to me, meanwhile, Cloran has captured the "pith" of the original script while blending in a rich array of Beatles' songs performed gustily and lustily by the mainstage Bard troupe. 

We both remarked how Act 1 had been just about the fastest 90 minutes of stage fun we perhaps had ever witnessed. Act smartly. Tickets will evaporate overnight I have no doubt!

How it's all put together : A key scene in the original 1598 script is a wrestling match. Cloran snatches the leitmotif of wrestling, sets it in Vancouver's 1960's popular All-Star Wrestling milieu, and the show starts its smackdown silliness instantly.

During a pre-performance "spontaneous" All-Star Wrestling re-do, Kayvon Khoshkam plays the role of ring announcer then quickly segues into leading the audience in a rousing round of "We All Live In A Yellow Submarine". Once the "pith" of Billy Bard commences we find him, fittingly, in the role of Touchstone the clown. 

Younger son of the late patriarch Rowland de Boys, Orlando (Nadeem Phillip) manages to defeat Duke Frederick's itinerant bone-crusher Charles (Austin Eckert) and meets the winsome Rosalind (Lindsey Angell) in the bargain. They both swoon. But do so to the the Fab Four's "She Loves You, Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand!" that are sung out by all on stage, backed by a 4-piece rock band with Gerald King's lighting quick-stops an exceptional add. 

As noted above, the tale is about estranged brothers and cousins and banishment of the losers. Truly it's more like escape, a Shakespeare "back to the land" motif where the stuffy values of big city parlours are scoffed at. In transit and while resettling upcountry, Rosalind masquerades as a man named Ganymede partly for safety, partly because "This is Shakespeare!" as the cast smirks teasingly elsewhere on the night. 

Harveen Sandhu as Celia / Aliena and Lindsey Angell as Rosaline masquerading as Ganymede-the-youthful-male share news about Ros's heartthrob Orlando.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Her beloved cuz Celia (Harveen Sandhu) joins her and adopts the name Aliena to reflect her outlaw status with Dad. Orlando heads upcountry as well when he learns that estranged older brother Oliver (Craig Erickson) wants him not just dispossessed of their father's inheritance for him, but dead, full stop.

Production values that enhance the script :  Easy to indulge in plot-spoiler mode here, more than I have already. But I shan't ruin all the surprises in store for lucky viewers. Suffice to say the following : never mind the Beatles music that was just plain trick, the hippie-dippie costumes stitched together by Carmen Alatorre were absolutely an ace throwback to the day. One could almost smell the cannabis implicitly embedded in the tie-dyes and brocades and paisleys and loud stripes and outlandish shoes the cast sported. ("If you remember the 60's you weren't there!" was a popular slogan for that time.) 

Set designer Pam Johnson's wrestlemania opening scene carried the stage for over half-an-hour, backed by scrims reflecting Vancouver's human-scale neon downtown look before the highrise horrors that shortly would take hold. Her Okanagan orchard follow-up with the upstage VW bus declaring Peace and Love and adorned with gaudy flowers was a terrific touch.

But it is the choreography and blocking and stage business and in-character nuances throughout that capture the imagination the most. Credit Director Cloran, of course, but huge kudos to Choreographer Jonathan Hawley Purvis as well for his blocking prowess. Taken all together, a more effective blend of Billy Bard 17th Century dialogue with Beatles-era music that followed it by some 350 years on cannot, probably, be imagined, duplicated or improved upon.

Acting pin-spots : This script is all about Rosalind and Orlando, without doubt. But Lindsey Angell's excellence in her role as mirrored by Nadeem Phillip in his would by themselves not have been enough to take the show over the top the way it did do. As the clown Touchstone, Kayvon Khoshkam was an Elton John lookalike with his outsize glasses, garish striped suit and non-stop histrionica that absolutely charmed the audience the night through.

As Touchstone the clown, Kayvon Khoshkam was pure scamp and slapstick tease, here with his earthy "country wench" (as Shakespeare described her in the script's original  Dramatis Personnae), Emma Slipp playing a randy Audrey. 
Photo credit : Tim Matheson
Simpleton shepherd Silvius by Ben Elliott and his breathless panting after Phoebe (Luisa Jojic) was constant good fun, their slapstick pratfall routine to "Like No Other Lover" a highlite. Harveen Sandhu as Celia / Aliena and Andrew Wheeler as the aging manservant Adam plus stoned-out lay preacher Martext were always fixing to watch. 

From the tortured / murderous Macbeth, Ben Carlson as the wittily ironic, melancholic Jaques in AYLI brought just the right edge to the part. His "All the world's a stage... / ... His acts being seven ages" soliloquy was commanding : subtle and poignant, neither over- nor under-stated.

Fact is my seatmate and I agreed there wasn't a weak performance anywhere ! As well as some fine strumming and singing of these old Beatle favourites spanning the band's full playlist spectrum, everything from "Help!" to "Across the Universe".

Final thoughts : As among Mamma Mia, Once and As You Like It, this is the most robust swack of musical comedy afoot at one time in Vancouver than ever before. I have no hesitation in recommending each and every one of these shows and would happily, eagerly, go see all three all over again. Each is decidedly different from the others, but quite deliciously so. If you have budget for but one, choose carefully, or maybe make your choice with random abandon. You can't go wrong either way.

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the BMO Mainstage, Vanier Park. Performances : 50 shows between now and the September 22nd closer. Schedule & ticket information @ bardonthebeach.orgRun-time 150 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Daryl Cloran.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Set Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer/Musical Director Ben Elliott.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Choreographer / Fight Director Jonathan Hawley Purvis.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebeca Mulvihill. Apprentice Stage Manager Jenny Kim.  Directing Apprentice Kim Senklip Harvey. Costume Design Apprentice Emily Fraser.

Performers :  Lindsey Angell (Rosalind).  Scott Bellis (Duke Senior; Duke Frederick).  Ben Carlson (Jaques).  Sharon Crandall (Duke Frederick's Attendant; Corin).  Nicco del Rio (Second Lord; William; Jacques De Boys).  Austin Eckert (Charles the Wrestler; Amiens).  Ben Elliott (Silvius).  Craig Erickson (Oliver De Boys).  Jeff Gladstone (Le Beau; First LordHymen).  Louisa Jojic (Phoebe).  Kayvon Khoshkam (Touchstone). Nadeem Phillip (Orlando De Boys).  Harveen Sandhu (Celia).  Emma Slipp (Audrey).  Andrew Wheeler (Adam; Sir Oliver Martext). 


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