As You Like It
Robert J Williamson
Full cast details below
Ramme Gaard, Norway
Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds
Wadham College, Oxford
YORKSHIRE EVENING POST
Agincourt is undoubtedly one of England's most famous battles,
and Henry V one of Shakespeare's best-known history plays.
Variously seen as anti-war or passionately nationalist, the
play explores the difficulty of being both a lover of peace
and a wager of war as Henry is, while presenting us with the
usual stereotypes of the enemy, such as the "confident
and over-lusty French". Both the play and British Shakesepeare
Company's production carry these off confidently.
In 2003, the play was performed at the Royal National Theatre
as a propaganda piece against the Iraq war. Thankfully, BSC
has provided a production which doesn't over-emphasise the
political parallels and is less overtly political, being staged
in Elizabeth costume and without stentorian references to modern
politics. As such, it develops more fully an awareness of the
political situation in England at the close of the 16th century,
with Elizabeth I about to die, and an increasingly worrying
France looming across England's Protestant borders.
David Davies offered an outstanding performance as the Chorus,
making an excellent job of an awkward and antique dramatic
role, giving it energy and humour and thus illuminating the
connections and structures of the play. Christopher
in the role of Fluellen, was equally superb, handling a Welsh
accent, a cudgel and a leek with aplomb. James
Alexandrou was impressive in the role of Pistol
and his exchanges with Fluellen were a high point of comic
relief in the play. Also notable was Robert Crumpton's self-satisfied, petulant Dauphin,
whose preference for his horse over his mistress left little
to the nimble imagination.
Robert J. Williamson's direction
was excellent. At the key moments, during Henry V's set pieces
such as "Once more
unto the breach, dear friends" or the famous "We
few, we happy few", he was capable of being magnificent.
banner waving spectacle in the evening light from the British
Shakespeare company. David Davies, who
is blessed with a noble voice, speaks the opening Chorus
lines. He stirs audience imaginations beyond the confines
of the wooden O, or in this case the Kirkstall Abbey
cloisters, and off we go.
J Williamson’s King Henry is not quite
a striking figure and some of his lords are making scenes
appear static by not expressing their physicality. Yet
once the scent of battle is in the air Williamson does
become the warrior king and the lords and officers react
to him. He revels in the stirring speeches. Henry’s
courtship of the French Princess Katharine, Martha
Swann, is as charming an interlude as it should
be and is played with wit and style by both parties. Zahra
Browne as Katharine’s attendant makes
every line work to her advantage. On the English side Joanna
Ferris is a splendid Tavern Hostess despite James
Alexandrou not, as yet, looking comfortable
as her husband Pistol. Shane Armstrong impresses
as both the French Herald Montjoy and the English Captain
MacMorris. He is a more than reliable actor, as is Adam
Redmayne who stands out as the Constable of France.
Williamson has again gathered a goodly
crop of young actors for his annual tour. His company has
helped launch many fine careers. Outdoor theatre enthusiasts
rarely have an opportunity to see a Henry V. Given a couple
performances to iron out character relationships this will
be a very good one.
a cursory glance through Shakespeare's canon reveals that
Williamson's company is serving his works most effectively – perhaps
even more so than the royally approved RSC.
NICK AHAD, YORKSHIRE POST
British Shakespeare Company has made its annual trip to Leeds
with a double bill of As You Like It and this gripping production
of Henry V. Now in its 13th year at Kirkstall, the open air
Shakespeare festival is a must not just for lovers of classical
theatre but for anyone who enjoys exceptional performances
in the most beautiful theatrical space the city can offer.
year the festival is being sold on the box office pulling power
of former EastEnders star James Alexandrou but
it is now such a familiar and welcome fixture in the area's
cultural calendar it probably doesn't need to put such a focus
on any one performer. However, it has to be said that the artist
formerly known as Martin Fowler equips himself very well in
what is not only his first Shakespearean role but his very
first foray into theatre. His confident turn as Pistol shows
a natural aptitude for comedy which probably didn't get much
chance to be aired down Albert Square and he is clearly a young
actor with a lot to offer. I suspect he will find it easier
than most to shake off the shackles of his soap alter ego.
the company's founder Robert
J Williamson, who also directs here, makes an inspiring
King Harry and there are also extremely strong perfomances
from Christopher Llewellyn as Captain Fluellen
Davies, who is captivating in his dual roles of
the Chorus and the Duke of Exeter.
With summer appearing
to have made a belated visit to Yorkshire an evening spent
with the BSC is a magical one and one that comes highly
MORLEY OBSERVER & ADVERTISER
Once again, the BSC was magnificent, from Robert
J Williamson as Henry to Christopher
Llewellyn's Captain Fluellen. David Davies' performance
as Henry's Uncle, the Duke of Exeter, was sublime also. His
role as narrator to the piece imbued the performance with
all the authority it deserved. Treat
yourself to a ticket.
is Europe's leading exponent of open-air theatre”
Thank Heaven for the
buccaneering spirit of intrepid actor-manager Robert
J. Williamson. His unsubsidised
British Shakespeare Company defies anything the great British
summer can throw at it and continues to delight audiences
with lavish open air productions staged in some of the
most beautiful and historic locations in the Land.
year witnesses a rare foray into the history plays of William
Shakespeare with a new production of Henry V, previously
staged only once at these festivals: that was back in 1998
with Williamson in the title role. A matured Williamson returns
with a carefully studied and finely crafted performance
free of histrionics, and bringing to the fore the humanity
of the young monarch. We glimpse Henry's tender side in
his awkward wooing of the non-English speaking Katherine,
Princess of France - a delightfully idiomatic performance
An excellent young
company of seventeen actors is directed by Williamson with
his innate flair and sense of pace. There is an impressive
theatrical and Shakespearean debut from James Alexandrou -
formerly Martin Fowler in BBC's EastEnders - as Pistol. Alexandrou and
Joanna Ferris's comely Mistress Quickly make a splendid
comedy double-act, ably assisted by Christopher
Llewellyn as Nym and Barrie
Palmer as Bardolph. David
Davies invests the roles of Chorus
and the Duke of Exeter with his customary sonorous authority.
is a pall of smoke and a distinct smell of battle in the
famous Agincourt scene as heavy armour, swords and shields
clash with sickening authenticity in Williamson's staging
of this "mother of all battles".
It all fits so
beautifully into this magical setting of the arches and
shadows of kirkstall Abbey's ancient cloisters. Take along
a picnic, absorb the atmosphere and stay dry - most of
the seating is under cover but the actors do get a soaking
if it rains.
ILKLEY GAZETTE & WHARFEDALE OBSERVER
YOU LIKE IT
in the Forest of Arden and the British Shakespeare Company
is taking along its very own forest. A clump of fine
saplings plus two colourful tournament tents, various wagons
and lots of straw make for an enchanting set. Equally attractive
are the actors and a wandering minstrel, all costumed
in traditional Tudor styles. Put
all of that into a romantic location such as Kirkstall
Abbey and audience imaginations will not have to leap
Swann excels as Rosalind, the role every young
woman wants to play. Stacey Roco, appearing outdoors
for the first time, gives gleeful support as Rosalind’s
cousin Celia. Their banter sets a happy tone.
Alexandrou’s playing of Rosalind’s
love interest Orlando is hardly likely to set the forest
on fire, as yet, but he is willing enough and there are
interesting glimpses. His wrestling bout with Willam
Reay’s Charles is enormous fun. Part
pantomime, part knockabout cartoon, and the audience
immediately entering into the spirit of the contest.
down the social scale there is good comic playing from
shepherds and servants, especially Shane Armstrong and Joanna
Minnithorpe and choreographer Bernadette
Wilfred have a large cast moving with purpose
and intent and there is much comic inventiveness.
It's hard to know exactly why Williamson
chose to stage it, other than the fact
that he has done the obvious choices
several times in recent years. He may
also have been tempted a few years ago
when he found such a strong actor in Martha
Swann, someone capable of taking on the dream role
disappoint, with a complex and multi-layered Rosalind,
although one who is a little more flighty than a wilful
intellectual, as she can be on the page. Swann's brilliant
performance of the epilogue is worth the admission price
on its own.
James Alexandrou, best
known as Martin Fowler in Eastenders, grows through the performance
of Orlando into his role and by the middle part of the
second half is impressive.
Old hand Robert Crumpton is
excellent, as usual, although a touch too much arrogance creeps
into his performance, and Joanna Ferris and
the beautiful Zahra Browne are excellent in
their cameos. There are also the usual directorial flourishes
NICK AHAD, YORKSHIRE POST
of Shakespeare's finest comic offerings brought a ray of
sunshine - literally and metaphorically - to Kirkstall Abbey
on Tuesday evening. The annual Leeds Shakespeare Festival
run by R J Williamson has returned - and will make this miserable
summer all the brighter for it.
As You Like It throws off
the heavy shackles of noble courts and relocates to the forest
where a banished duke and daughter and a brother on the run
have all been forced to make their home.
met and fallen in love under their normal guises of Rosalind
and Orlando, the couple meet again in the forest, but this
time Rosalind has cross-dressed to become Gannymede.
endless delight in probing and scrutinizing Orlando's professed
love for Rosalind - while somehow managing to get feisty
female Phebe to fall in love with her too.
Martha Swann as
Rosalind was wonderful - as she always is - but it was Stacey Roca's Celia
who provided the performance of the night. She was just perfect
in her supporting role.
Robert J Williamson's morose
and mirthless Jacques was another highlight while James Alexandrou's Orlando
was near faultless in this his stage debut.
laughter-filled night out in the forest awaits you.
Speculation over As You Like it largely surrounded whether
James Alexandrou, better known as Eastenders' Martin "Faaahla",
would suit Shakespearean prose as opposed to Cockney market
stall banter. In fact his interpretation of the lead role
Orlando makes for an impressive debut and obvious talent
for slapstick humour, albeit enhanced by an immensely enjoyable
stage connection with Martha Swann as Rosalind
Hugely absorbing from start to finish
and interpreting 400-year-old jokes in a way that effortlessly
triggered mass laugher, this production is theatre at its
best and, coupled with the unique atmosphere of Kirkstall
Abbey, makes for a perfect summer's evening of entertainment.