as you like it

As if you didn’t know it already I am getting old, very old, too old to tolerate some of the young whippersnappers jigging across the stages of Canada. Take Orlando in As You Like It, played by Cyrus Lane, a name and an actor new to me. Awesome body language: He chinned himself on the edge of the upper level of the stage, grabbing something and lifting himself impressively. And a leap across a desk was equally awesome. His moves are eloquent, his acting not as. I’m sure he could fight his way out of a paper bag with lithesome skill but for my money, he can’t act his way out. So it is with most of the young people on the Festival Stage, prancing out in a beloved, familiar play in a 1980’s Newfoundland. It gave them a reason to jig. Ai me.

I saw the play in London in January at The National Theatre, but a number of my friends here saw it too, on the big screens in Toronto. Some of them liked the staging better than I did. The Forest of Arden was a hanging maze of suspended desks and chairs and office equipment. I found it distressing and distracting; others were charmed. Everyone found the wrestling match at the beginning to be awkward as staged in an office before the furniture went skyward. But most of the actors were fine, no one as good, ever, as the late Brian Bedford’s Jacques who spoke familiar words (the seven ages of man) as if they had just occurred to him. Rosalind was charming. How can you miss? Well, you can. Stratford’s Rosalind, played by Petrina Bromley in her Stratford debut, is also from Newfoiundland, not boyish at all in her overalls I thought that the London Celia was delightful. Her body image was pert and friendly before she even opened her mouth. Forgive me if I don’t look up the actors' names right now; it’s been a long day and you won’t remember anyway.

I’ve seen the play so many times that a kind of composite of it has settled in my mind’s eye: a great rendition, like Bedford’s of Jaques; a nice reading of a line by some past Touchstone; a buxom Audrey flaunting herself “unseemly”; an Orlando totally confused by his attraction to the boy, Ganymede. Well…

I don’t know why it occurred to Antoni Cimolino, the director, to set the play in Newfoundland, but it worked, sort of. In spite of the raunchiness of some of he bawdy bard’s lines, it became a children’s play, with interaction by the audience, old and young. Willing spectators accepted a bag of props to be brought out on instruction by the games mistress, Robin Hutton, herself from Newfoundland. It wasn’t quite let’s-all stand-up-and-be-a-tree, but almost. When we all arrive in the Forest of Arden the bag-holders (I was not one of them) were told to bring out a branch (bigger than a twig) of fir tree and wave it. It could have been the forest of Dunsinane.

The music was live, onstage and gen-u-wine Newfie, I guess, but here’s the thing: “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” never sounded so good.

So - a mixed bag and an enthusiastic audience. It should play well in the fall for the school matinees.