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Theatre Calgary’s As You Like It is a musical delight 

By Ansharah Shakil, March 13 2024—

Of all of Shakespeare’s comedies, As You Like It is one of the happiest plays he ever penned, with a whimsical plot and an ending where everything is wrapped up together in a neat bow. Theatre Calgary’s production of As You Like It takes the play from the 1660s to the 1960s but loses none of that charm. 

Set in Vancouver and Okanagan, it weaves 22 songs by the Beatles into the original script. Opening night thoroughly charmed the audience, cleverly introducing viewers to the world of the show with its pre-show entertainment, which included a wrestling match.

Despite the changes to the setting and plot, the major beats of this adaptation are the same as the original play. Dame Frances (Nadien Chu) has taken control of the family wrestling business and exiled her sister Dame Senior (also Nadien Chu) to the Okanagan forest. Dame Senior’s daughter Rosalind (Chelsea Rose) is allowed to stay as requested by Dame Frances’ daughter Celia (Naomi Ngebulana). Oliver de Boys (Matthew Macdonald-Bain), a manager for the wrestler Charles, argues with his brother Orlando (Oscar Derkx) about Orlando’s inheritance and tells Charles to beat Orlando when the latter decides to wrestle him. Rosalind and Celia witness the match, where Rosalind and Orlando fall in love.

No longer trusting Rosalind, Dame Frances banishes her, and Celia follows her to the forest along with their family employee Touchstone. For her and Celia’s safety, Rosalind disguises herself as a man, calling herself Ganymede. In the forest, Rosalind-as-Ganymede meets Orlando and attempts to get knowledge of his feelings for her, and Orlando meets Dame Senior and her companions while writing love poems for Rosalind in the forest trees. The farmer Silvius is hopelessly in love with another farmer, Phebe, who meets Ganymede and falls in love. Meanwhile, Touchstone finds a romance with a goat-girl named Audrey. Oliver is sent to the forest by Dame Senior to retrieve Orlando, but instead reconciles with his brother and becomes smitten with Celia, who returns his feelings. Orlando begins to believe he and Rosalind are doomed until Ganymede convinces him that all their problems can be solved.

One of the most important things about a Shakespeare production is the leads. It’s unfortunate, then, that Rose’s rendition of Rosalind isn’t satisfying. Though a lovely singer, the character she’s portraying lacks the depth of Shakespeare’s Rosalind, who is one of his greatest heroines. In this production, despite her being the main character, it’s hard to feel as attached to her. The costuming does her little favours as Rosalind and takes little advantage of having fun with her disguise as Ganymede, instead keeping her in the same suit the whole time, the colours of which regrettably clash with Orlando’s outfit. Most of the chemistry between her and Orlando is down to Derkx, who is a brilliant Orlando, sweet and loveable and bursting into song with undeniable emotion. 

In general, however, the actors have admirably thrown themselves into their performance. They look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage and vibrantly bring their script to life. Ngebulana is a ray of sunshine — she and Macdonald-Bain, who perfectly pulls off the villainous suit and then the pathetic lover, are joyful to watch as Celia and Oliver. Lainfiesta is another standout, captivating to watch on stage.

The 60s-inspired costuming and set design help with the cohesiveness of the play — the second act contains a bus with a peace sign painted over top and the finale includes a giant flower heart. The characters particularly excel at their slapstick physical comedy and at delivering entertaining one-liners. Their antics got plenty of laughs from the audience, who were eagerly engaged throughout. Both Charles and Touchstone often addressed the audience directly, and at one point, a member of the audience screamed out the completing song lyric to a cast member’s line. 

Song choices range from perfectly and obviously fitting (“Fool on the Hill” when Dame Senior’s companion Jaques says he’s run into a fool in the forest) to hilariously unexpected (rather than hearing Orlando’s love poems, we hear Beatles love songs). But the collection works perfectly for the play and includes notable songs by the band, with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” being one of the best numbers. “All You Need is Love” brings the play to a fitting, joyous close. The audience reception showed how timeless of a play As You Like It remains. It’s clear that this is an adaptation that stays true to the heart of the play and will have you smiling with your heart full when you exit the theatre.

As You Like It is showing until Mar. 24. Tickets and more information are available on the Theatre Calgary website.

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