Melbourne Shakespeare Company is back with a brand new production, As You Like It, next month.
This Shakespearian classic romantic comedy is ready to entertain all ages in Malvern’s Central Park next month. We spoke with Artistic Director and founder of the Melbourne Shakespeare Company, Jennifer Sarah Dean, on what to expect.
For those unfamiliar with the play, what is the plot of As You Like It?
This is actually a surprisingly tricky question! Trying to condense this crazy story down into just a few sentences is harder than it sounds. Here goes….
Rosalind and her cousin Celia are banished by Duke Senior (in our production, Dame Senior). They escape into the forest in disguise, as a shepherd boy and a shepherdess. In the forest they meet Orlando, Rosalind’s love, who has run away from his evil brother Oliver. Still disguised as a shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her under the guise of “curing” him of his love for Rosalind. In the meantime Phebe, an actual shepherdess falls in love with Rosalind (who she thinks is a boy) and Rosalind tries to convince Phebe to fall in love with a young shepherd, called Silvius, instead.
What made you most excited to direct As You Like It?
As You Like It has been on the cards for a number of years, and I am so delighted that this year we were able to put it on. One of the main things I love about the play is the character of Rosalind. She is the largest of Shakespeare’s female characters with over 720 lines. But more than that, she is quick, intelligent, witty, and an incredibly strong character. So I was delighted to get to develop this character with Annabelle Tudor, who plays Rosalind in our production.
What do you think is going to surprise most audiences about your production?
For those who have not seen our work before, audiences are always surprised at how clear the text is and how much they understand and relate to the narrative. Audiences are also surprised at how funny, dynamic and fun they are to watch. If you have seen our work before, you will be surprised at the music within the production. We always incorporate contemporary pop music into our pieces but this year our Musical Director, Benjamin Almon Colley, has gone above and beyond, and we have a number of huge a-cappella numbers featuring body percussion and 7/8 part harmonies which I think will surprise and impress people!
Directing Shakespeare productions can be daunting – how did you personally approach such an iconic piece?
One of the hardest things for me when approaching a play for MSC is the text edit. Melbourne Shakespeare Company is all about making Shakespeare accessible to a new audience and, as a result, our productions are abridged to 90 minutes. As a massive Shakespeare geek, I find it incredibly difficult to cut the text down and constantly doubt myself when I have to leave out a gorgeous piece of verse or a bawdy joke!
The next tricky thing is casting. I strongly believe that finding the right cast is 80% of the challenge. It is really important to me that we find performers who work well within our high energy, interactive, playful style. Thankfully, I could not be more delighted with the incredible performers. They are so talented!
We always try to find a venue that suits the show so that we can create an immersive world for the audience. This heavily influences our design concepts and choices. Luckily we have an incredible team of creatives involved in this show so the development process has been really smooth.
Why do you think As You Like It is still relevant for today’s audiences?
The play has so many relatable themes, from warring families to fantastic friendships, but fundamentally, it is a love story and something that an audience can easily relate to. It shows the silly things that we do when we are in love and the hilarious consequences of that. The additional elements of modern pop songs from Lizzo, John Legend, and even, Savage Garden serve as a great way of showing people how people today are still singing about the same things that were written about hundreds of years ago, and how relevant it still is!
Melbourne Shakespeare Company is a strong advocate for sustainable practices in the theatre. Can you tell me about how this has impacted As You Like It?
We believe that it is really important for us to play our part in improving and advocating for sustainable practises in the theatre. Aislinn [Naughton, Costume Designer] and Hayley [James, Set Designer] are both incredible and we are always blown away by what they manage to create with using only reclaimed, recycled and reused materials. You would never know it looking at their work and it is a great demonstration of what can be achieved.
You’re staging the piece in Malvern’s Central Park – what would you say is the most difficult part about directing and performing in an outdoor space?
You don’t have any control and I am a bit of a control freak! The weather could change, an animal might run on stage, planes and helicopters might fly overhead and as a director there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix it. I just have to trust that the actors will work with it! However, this also creates one of the most exciting elements for an audience as there is an added layer of danger as you never know what might happen. It’s amazing seeing actors react in the moment on stage and managing to include these foreign elements into their work seamlessly, however it still makes me nervous!
Why do you think As You Like It is perfect entertainment for all ages?
Our plays feature live music and dancing. They are both high energy, include slapstick comedy and these are all things that the families in our audience love. Being outdoors this is the perfect way of introducing kids to theatre in a relaxed setting, where they can laugh and sing along to songs they recognise whilst still learning about some of the most famous stories and characters in English literature.
Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s “As You Like it” begins performances 7th of March 2020.
Tickets are available via TakeYourSeats.com