As You Like It

Four weddings – and no funeral

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 04.10.2013

Love, theatrical illusion, exile and identity make up the pillars of Douglas Rintoul’s interpretation. His As You Like It, which opened at the Grand Théâtre on September 27, is both innovative and bold. Shakespeare made new!

The text has been given a frame device within which the play unfolds: an asylum seeker who is stuck in a refugee camp in Calais hopes to get to England as soon as possible, which is why he is teaching himself English by reading Shakespeare. Usually the other refugees laugh at him, but tonight they agree to slip into the characters of As You Like It and perform the play…

Their acting generates a wonderfully warm feeling of togetherness. We escape with them into the Forest of Arden, the land of love, a landscape that is both dangerous and magical. Suddenly Shakespeare’s lines make the raw, run-down space of the refugee camp with its peeling wallpaper and the pile of scruffy mattresses seem in turn intimate or wild and open, according to the demands of the various scenes.

All the world’s a stage! There are nine actors for over twenty parts, and we are instantly off on a voyage of discovery thanks to a delightful mix of accents. The transformations are stunning. Anna Elijasz plays both Celia, a French princess, and Audrey, a country girl, with great zest and aplomb. Colin Michael Carmichael is a wonderfully suave Touchstone, the court jester who enjoys showing off his dry wit; he also metamorphoses into a funny yet very touching Amiens as well as into a modern Hymen.

And then there are the two central characters: Michael Fox is a deeply moving Orlando, whose rapturous longing flows into the clumsy but passionate poetry he writes in praise of Rosalind. Not an easy part to play since this hero is almost too good to be true! Elisabet Johannesdottir, the Icelandic-Luxembourgish presence on stage, plays Rosalind, the longest of all female roles in Shakespeare. The wayward yet fragile heroine dresses as a man in order to feel safe and protect her cousin Celia. Later she hides beneath the disguise when she tests Orlando. The actress certainly lived up to the challenge. Her comic timing was spot on, though she must make sure not to rush through any of her lines during the wooing game. To be fair, it might just have been a case of first-night nerves!

Another brilliant performance came from Mark Jax as Jaques, the melancholic courtier who stands apart as the only character determined to reject love of any kind right from the start. He is disdainful of everyone and everything, a cynical outsider who feels that he has seen it all. The way the most famous lines in the play, Jaques’s evocation of the seven ages of man, are spoken is both nonchalant and extremely touching.

All in all, the acting is masterfully precise with actors slipping in and out of roles as the plot unfolds. The fact that in Shakespeare the forest becomes a land of possibility for political exiles, a kind of no man’s land where time stands still, makes the Calais setting absolutely fitting. However, Douglas Rintoul does not let the audience bask in the magical atmosphere of Arden for very long. The moment the epilogue has been spoken, we are back in the cramped refugee camp. Clearly, the escapist power of Shakespeare’s play will not last – either for the protagonists or the audience.

Contemporary political persecution and the precariousness of migrant lives which remain invisible to us most of the time are central to this interpretation. It certainly turned out to be an evening full of inventiveness and brilliant surprises – plenty of food for thought. The three sold-out performances proved that the lure of Shakespeare remains as strong as ever.

Janine Goedert
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