Shakespeare is nothing without modernised adaptations: Westside Story, The Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s The Man, to name a few. These interpretations bring with them understanding, relatability and appreciation for modern audiences. As You Like It, the first production out of St Paul’s Graduate House was more Gnomeo and Juliet than Clueless — but don’t turn your nose up just yet. This reimagined version from the recently formed Impresario’s Player’s theatrical group was a feelgood show filled with song, dance and chuckles.
Shakespeare’s script, like most of his comedies, tells a story of young love, gender swapping and fled prosecution. It also – like most of his comedies – drags its characters into the forest, which in the play was transitioned by a DIY backdrop made of fake leaves fashioned into trees and foliage. On the reverse side, as presented to the audience on arrival, were prom-esque foil streamers and balloon wreaths to set the show’s vibe.
While it wasn’t made clear why the adaptation was set in the 1980s, it was a fun theme nevertheless. The cast committed to historically accurate costumes, and donned themselves head-to-toe in vintage jumpsuits, windbreakers and scrunchies.
This indirect throughline allowed them to sing hits from the decade, that while not necessary for plot, provided a breather from the Old English. The timing was sometimes off in solos, but the pitch-perfect harmonisations smoothed this over. On the playlist were classics like ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’, and the final cast number to ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ demonstrated the carefree vibe of the show and gelling of the actors.
The cast was refreshingly diverse and accommodated a variety of ages, genders and ethnicities. Sancta Sophia’s Jeanne Hamman shone as a confident and cunning Rosalind, with star-worthy expressions and response times. Her onstage cousin, Celia was played by Alexandria Abishegam who executed her ditzy character perfectly and mastered the act of building tension. Kieran Cook made a charming love interest as Oliver, and Emily Manché serenaded Footloose’s ‘Let’s Hear It for the Boy’ beautifully.
In the director’s note, Tiffany Wong wrote that she was inspired to put on the play after finding out that we laugh at Shakespeare because we think we should, not because we actually find him humorous. Wong wanted to change this in her directorial debut. Through emphasis and body language, the cast communicated the comedic lines impressively. However, it was the physicality of it all that had us in stitches. A wrestling showdown featuring Broderick Morgan in metallic lycra and neon sweatbands sustained a healthy amount of giggles. Alexa Liong nailed her schticks and Amer Nasr had the audience around his finger as a dancing priest.
Other notable performances came from Codey Swado, Angus Neale, Behzad Memarzadeh and Isabella Milkovitsch. The production had a surprise role for House Dean and internationally acclaimed academia hunk, Antone Martinho-Truswell, who resolved the play by pairing off the rightful lovebirds, after dramatically bursting on stage from his seat in the crowd.
As You Like It was shown on a constructed stage in Paul’s new Grad House itself. It seemed a fitting choice that connected the production with its stars and its surrounding community, but technicalities from the location choice soon became apparent. Midway through the matinee show, another resident turned on the coffee machine in the adjoining kitchen area, and drew away audience attention. Projection and eye level were inconsistent amongst the actors and it was sometimes jarring to see cast waiting to enter the stage from the curtainless backdrop. With a 1.5 hour runtime, As You Like It could have also done with an intermission to split up the Acts.
But, As You Like It was a testament to the magic of student productions. It was an amateur show with a largely inexperienced cast — it was clear everyone had put their hand up for an exciting new opportunity, and as a result, their hearts and souls made the atmosphere infectious. It’s what gave As You Like It its uninhibited, endearing charm.
The dedication and hard work of the cast, crew and exec was clear from the first line. Yes, it was clumsy at times and had a few teething problems, but as far as first shots go, they scored high. With time and confidence, the Grad House’s Impresario Player’s group could give SUDS a bit of healthy competition.