As the sun begins to set over Cardiff, Sophia Gardens is treated to Shakespearean comedy and folk music. It’s a beautiful harmony of soft strings with poetic prose – Shakespeare as Irish fairy tale and the wonderful vision of director Rebecca Gould.
Gould has a habit of freshening Shakespeare up for the Everyman Festival, and she’s very good at it. By the Bard’s standards, As You Like It is very much on the gentler side of things, but the addition of folk singing gives it an entirely new dimension. Characters’ genders are also played with, a fitting innovation for a play built around a woman in drag.
As good as Gould is at reinvention, her handling of the material is even better. Shakespearean language isn’t always accessible to the masses, but there is enough physical comedy and visual aid here to ensure the audience never get confused. The cast, too, are tremendous. Such is the quality of acting on display in As You Like It that you forget many of these performers are not properly trained. Bridie Smith is a revelation, fully embracing the absurdities of Rosalind pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman; the chemistry with Eifion Ap Cadno’s Orlando is believable, yes, but it’s her relationship with Celia (a brilliant Victoria Walters) that really resonates.
Scenes are constantly being stolen, though. Adam Porter as the hilariously hammy court jester Touchstone; Ella Maxwell singing beautifully under the moonlight as Amiens; Charlotte Rees’ Phoebe torn between a real man and a false one; these and so many other superb moments from the rest of the supporting cast are instrumental to the play’s success.
As the play reaches its climax, the trees of Bute Park glow. An enchanting end to a play that oozes of magic. Top quality performances, excellently performed music and tremendous direction all mesh together to produce an outdoor theatre performance for the ages.