Shakespeare and The Beatles? For Theatre Calgary it mostly works.

Posted by & filed under REVIEWS, Theatre.

Theatre Calgary’s presentation of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran, is like ‘pools of sorrow, waves of joy.’ The production is mostly the original full length play, with songs by the Beatles spread throughout. Your brain chugs at first, trying to see how the two are related. They aren’t related to the naked eye but this production blends them together theatrically, and that leaves you questioning that premise. The original production was conceived by Daryl Cloran and Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival and premiered in Vancouver in 2018. It has played to audiences in Chicago, Milwaukee, Edmonton and Winnipeg, as well as Washington DC. It features some of its original artists, so they know their characters thoroughly. This production has some segments of joy, especially in seeing The Beatles with the Bard. Setting the story in the 60s, in BC (the Okanagan to be specific) throws off the premise of the story, especially the part about banishment, but it’s easy to overlook these things and focus on the pleasure of the production.  

The play remains mostly true to the original text with some adaptations. It opens with a wrestling match, but it’s the 1960s in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. Charles the Wrestler (Marco Walker-Ng) is the main champion in the wrestling matches and keeps most of the attention. During the wrestling, we meet Rosalind (Chelsea Rose) and her cousin Celia (Naomi Ngebulana). It doesn’t take long for Rosalind to fall in love with Orlando de Boys (Oscar Derkx) but she is banished by her mother Dame Frances (Nadien Chu) seemingly for being untrustworthy. Orlando also leaves as he was arguing with his brother Oliver (Matthew Macdonald-Bain) about his mistreatment and holding back of the inheritance from their late father, but flees when Adam (Andrew Wheeler), a friend of Orlando, lets him know that Oliver plans to have Orlando killed. They all find refuge in ‘Okanagan forest,’ and this is where all the love stories unfold. Touchstone (Andrew Cownden) also known as The Fool in the original text, falls in love with Audrey (Jenny McKillop), a goat herder. Silvius (Anton Lipovetsky), a young shepherd, is madly in love with Pheobe (Alexandra Lainfiesta) who is in love with Ganymede, who is Roslyn in disguise as a man. Oliver winds up reconciling with Orlando and falls in love with Celia. Amongst the companions in the forest is Dame Frances’ exiled sister, Dame Senior (also Nadien Chu) and Le Beau (Jan Alexandra Smith). Throw in Jacque de Boys (Henry Beasley) another de Boys brother, who also doubles as William in the forest, a chap who is in love with Audrey.

This cast is big and the production is long, running 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 20 minute intermission, if you didn’t come for the preshow. The show is much too long, and drags in the first half. But it all is mostly worth it when you hear the hits of the Beatles, surrounded by Shakespeare’s words. Smith’s performance is a show stopper, including the famous ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech, incorporating it into her performance so naturally. She also sings ‘I am the Walrus’ by The Beatles and doesn’t miss a beat. Derkx and Rose have chemistry, can sing in lovely voices, and express themselves beautifully through Shakespeare’s verses. It’s no easy feat. Chu’s transformation from the villain as Dame Frances to Dames Senior, characters who are different as night and day, is also something to behold. Ngebulana’s softness is of note and Cownden’s Touchstone is a comedic break from all the other seriousness.

The cast and musicians on stage are immensely talented and the musical direction by Ben Elliott ensures that the songs fit into Shakespeare’s text and that transitions aren’t awkward. Choreography by Jonathan Hawley Purvis adds energy to the lovely musical numbers of The Beatles. It simply wouldn’t be the same without the movement. Pam Johnson’s set design goes from a wrestling ring to a forest all while maintaining a bridge walkway at mid level, where characters can look out to the action below. Costume design by Carmen Alatorre ensures that the vibe of the 60s is always present, complete with full wrestling spandex in the beginning and bell bottoms in the end. Gerald King’s lighting design enhances that vibe with rainbow colouring when it suits the musical numbers.

Does this production of As You Like It work throughout? The establishment at the beginning seems to drag a bit. The addition of the Beatles music picks up the energy, but makes the play longer. It seems that it’s only when the leads get to the forest that the narrative really starts to blossom. Maybe the Bard has a little help from the Beatles numbers, or maybe it’s because Smith is a knockout who is more prominent in the second act. Either way, the blending of language and art seems smoother by the time we get to the forest.

This mashup is an epic production and will appeal to those that love the Bard, the Beatles and all things beautiful.

Theatre Calgary’s production of As you like it runs until March 24th. More information is available online.

Photo Credit: Trudie Lee

Comments are closed.