A play about people
In the sixth of our blog post series, assistant director Hannah Sands writes about how As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays in the simplicity and relatability of its stories. Hannah is a finalist studying English at Homerton College.
It was as a ten year-old that I first discovered ‘As You Like It’. In the lead up to my school’s verse speaking competition, I stumbled upon Jacques’ ‘All the World’s a stage’ monologue. It was not just because I wanted to impress the judges with something more complex, that I left the verses of Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts and turned to The Bard, whose work was then quite unfamiliar to me. Instead, even then I could recognise that this was something rather special. As I climbed onto the stage to deliver my rendition, it was with a newfound revelation of acting and theatre in general. I was no longer just a student reproducing a rhyming story religiously learnt off by heart; rather I had here a speech that would allow me to speak directly to everyone in that room.A speech that recognised the consistency of human experience.
This is the fundamental feature of Shakespeare’s plays that we continue to enjoy today. Though his stories have been transferred from numerous settings and different moments in time, they continue to explore the diverse but underlying familiar pattern of human life. For CAST, one of the biggest and most enjoyable challenges was to create a production of ‘As You Like It’ that fully accommodated our understanding of identity today. Working with Marthe (the Director) has been an absolute pleasure. Marthe’s vision for the play is bold in so many different ways as she has decided to come at the text with a modern take on gender fluidity and sexuality. In many productions, such topics can be barely touched upon. Often the comic climax simply comes from Rosalind dressing as a man, Phoebe falling in love with her (without realising that she is actually a woman only disguised as a man) and Orlando carrying out his prescribed courting practices on Rosalind, dressed as a man pretending to be a girl. For such productions, it is the deviation from ‘socially prescribed’ identities and expected relations that intend to prompt our laughter, suggesting there is a conventional route in romance. CAST’s production however, celebrates the character’s individual confusion and uncertainty. In our show, thereis no such thing as error in the Forest of Arden, only experience. As the characters leave behind the monochrome court, they embark upon anindividual transformation, as they fall in and out of love, along all sorts of different paths.
Marthe and I have worked very closely with the actors every step of the way. In rehearsals we have endeavoured to make sure that relationships between characters are natural, and that every impulse seems spontaneous, allowing us to bring to stage something that is honest. One of the struggles a director can face is communicating their envisaged understanding of a certain interaction to the actors. Both actor and director will use the same words such as ‘love’, ‘energy’, ‘intimacy’, when trying to establish a common understanding, however these words can mean very different things to each of us. Though it sometimes means we repeat tiny moments again and again until we are all happy, it has been incredible to witness moments emerge in the rehearsal room that I did not first see in my head.
‘As You Like It’ is a play about people, and CAST’s rendition shows people set free from all expectation and restriction, interacting with one another, in whatever way they like it.