There's a weird temporal vortex around the Open Air Theatre: the necessities of acting in such a space seem to warp shows into the performance style of the theatre's origins in the '30s. It's compounded by Maria Aitken's decision to frame this production as a film-shoot of the era; the resulting touches are novel, but (despite Aitken's defensive programme notes) gratuitous.
Bette Bourne, though, makes a satisfactorily autocratic director, and his performance as Jaques is several degrees more sardonic than those around him – a different kind of queening. Cathryn Harrison's is the most fluid Rosalind of this year's crop, thoroughly at ease and un-grotesque in her tomboyishness, though Sarah-Jane Holm supplies a Celia too fraught to be a useful foil. Touchstone is a pompous, motley-clad ass in John Kane's interpretation, his dalliance with foul goatherd Audrey never sufficiently integrated; the amiable dimness of Oliver Parker's Orlando, on the other hand, is disarming.
And in the closing minutes, as fairy lights come on (honest) in the trees behind the stage and Rosalind in her epilogue "conjures" audience approval, an air descends that's as near as a rancid hack can get to calling "magical". A piece of wilful English eccentricity that's worth hanging onto.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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