Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London NW1
Opened 10 June, 2002

*** Darker than usual treatment of Shakespeare's comedy

It's fashionable now to paint shadows back into even the Bard's "festive comedies", but even so, this production feels oddly sombre.

It's not just that director Rachel Kavanaugh finds unusual directions to cast her shadows in, such as the jester Touchstone having a secret crush on exiled noblewoman Celia, or a particularly blustering Ruritanian Duke Frederick. It's that the portrayal of the comical confusions (with double and even triple gender-bends), which should more than counterbalance things, is on the perfunctory side.

In fact, the one insight I left with was the realisation for the first time that this isn't actually a very well written play. Set-piece speeches like "the seven ages of man" and the various "what is love?" sequences are baldly cued up with all the fluidity of a second-rate musical. It's in performance that these contrivances need to be glossed over with an easy, entertaining flow. That's what's missing here, and not just because of the need to act "big" and loud in this open-air city space.

Rebecca Johnson as Rosalind is reminiscent of Alexandra Gilbreath's performance in the role for the RSC a couple of years ago, but without quite so much charm. Caitlin Morrtam's over-the-top-ness as Celia is strangely endearing. Benedict Cumberbatch as Orlando is efficient.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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