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As You Like It review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘accessible and fun’

Jessica Hayles in As You Like It at Theatre by the Lake. Photo: Keith Pattison Jessica Hayles in As You Like It at Theatre by the Lake. Photo: Keith Pattison

You couldn’t better the timing. As You Like It is possibly Shakespeare’s most pastoral play, and this Keswick production opened on the weekend of the Lake District being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The play’s Arden has the wooded shores of Derwentwater outside the theatre for competition. But the visual creatives come up trumps with this gorgeously designed production. Dan Denton and Ian Galloway’s videos evoke a natural world beyond the humans on stage. Design (Libby Watson) and lighting (Chris Davey) evoke a sense of glowing, magical space, cleverly offset by the Duke’s court at the beginning, a modern boardroom hemmed in with riveted metal panels.

It’s a summery, rather than autumnal, production, and Kate Saxon’s direction is upbeat, supported by Richard Hammarton’s uplifting sound design and music. Physical vitality abounds, most notably in Sian Williams’ dance sequences, though a special mention must also go to fight director Kevin McCurdy’s re-imagining of the wrestling scene on and around the boardroom table.

In terms of the action, it’s a straightforward, not to say ‘straight’, production, which means some elements of the play don’t make it to the foreground. It’s not a world in which melancholy has much chance of getting a hearing. The queerest thing in it is Matthew Darcy’s Grayson Perry-inspired Audrey.

But Nathan Hamilton and Jessica Hayles give it plenty of heart as the likeable young leads. The remaining cast of seven are versatile and well-drilled foils. Darcy also impresses as Oliver. Adam Buchanan and Josie Dunn make the Silvius and Phoebe scenes one of the highlights of the play.

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Beautifully designed production provides accessible, Shakespearean fun