Ovid among the Goths; Jacques at Mardi Gras

Last night, on a relatively late impulse, to see the Bell Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It.  The company leaves town after Saturday, and as a result of my Mardi Gras orgy of entertainment Monday was my only night free before then.

As You Like It was the first Shakespeare comedy I saw, in a kind of pop-art inspired production in 1971 using perspex cubes as props and directed by Jim Sharman for the Old Tote Theatre Company at the (now rebuilt) Parade Theatre.  I can’t remember all the cast, but I do remember an a-la-Magritte bowler-hatted Tim Elliot as Jacques, who I thought was terrific.  Elliot subsequently seems to have disappeared from the stage – I last saw him in a lemon Fab commercial.  When the action moved to the Forest of Arden, the cast ran up and down the aisles shaking a large green piece of cloth over the heads of the audience in the central section.

About 6 years later, my sister designed a production for the Rocks Players, who in those days were performing in the church hall in Cumberland Street.  Aside from some ornate masks which she fashioned for the final masque/wedding scene, my principal recollection is that the trip to Arden involved climbing down from the rear gallery, and that one of the actors had broken her leg.

There must be another production which I have seen, because at the point where Rosalind (as Ganymede) whispers in Phebe’s ear “Sell when you can: you are not for all markets” a memory of that production sprang unbidden to mind.  It was probably the Bell Shakespeare’s 2003 production. If so, my vagueness about this is odd, because I haven’t been to very many of their shows over the years and I would have expected a more precise recollection.  I probably went to it (if I did – if is a great peacemaker) for the same reason then as this time, because As You Like It is a play I have always thought I liked – most likely on account of my early exposure to it.

That “thought I liked” reads ominously.   I do still like the play, so it is difficult for a performance to live up to expectations.  For one thing, you need to relax into the verbalism and the almost operatic occasion of the play.  When I say Operatic, I mean that, as with an opera, you don’t go for the plot or even, particularly, for the characterization.  Like an opera, it has well-known bits.  You go (OK, I am egocentrically generalizing here but it is for the sake of a casual style) for the mood and the atmosphere, to become reacquainted with the work, and to see how those well-known moments are negotiated.

With experience, sadly perhaps, one becomes more critical, and especially of technique.  I noticed a few muffed lines (Celia in particular), and there were a few points in Arden when what was doubtless intended as timelessness slipped into longeur.  Nevertheless it was a delight to share in something brought to life by the actors’ (and others’) craft.  Saskia Smith, as Rosalind, was terrific.

Jacques is still my favourite character in this play.  Just before expounding on his melancholy to Rosalind/Ganymede, Jacques suddenly kissed her or, rather, “him.”   I don’t think this was just a Mardi Gras touch – that is, the kiss was apt for a girl as well as a boy as a response to or out of melancholy. However, this set me thinking.  Melancholy is nowadays a neglected humour – is Withnail the last big-name exemplar?  If so, then the Mardi Gras touch was not so negligible.

Amplified through the theatre sound system the backing music (some but not all of which was actually played by the actors) obscured the words of the songs.  This was unfortunate, especially because quite avoidable.

After this Saturday, the production tours Australia.  It is hard to work out the system, or the reason for the relative length of their stays in each place.  None comes anywhere near matching the 4-week first run in Sydney.   Presumably it is a complex agglomeration of local factors and coincidences which has built up over years of the company’s touring endeavours.   The last performances are in the first week of July at Penrith.  I am tempted to try and see the play again then.

Oh, and Ovid among the Goths?  My own classical education is patchy and distinctly second-hand.  As an example of this, that line (which may in fact be a pun on “Goats”) reminded me of David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life.  Not that I was ever able to finish that book.  (D claims he once caught Malouf checking me out at the opera: my brush with fame!)

6 Responses to “Ovid among the Goths; Jacques at Mardi Gras”

  1. The Rabbit Says:

    Did you know that An Imaginary Life is the best novel ever written by an Australian? Its shortness helps.

  2. ninglun Says:

    Good Heavens, Rabbit; I tend to agree. As You Like It brings back a few memories too.

  3. marcellous Says:

    Rabbit: it still wasn’t short enough for me, even though I owned a copy for some years. Mental bloc, I guess. I suppose that means you aren’t so crazy about Capricornia, then.

  4. Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily Says:

    […] busy at the moment.  He managed to fit in a visit to Bell Shakespeare’s Sydney production of As You Like It last night and then punch out a review of it, after a busy weekend at the Queer Screen Film […]

  5. The Rabbit Says:

    It’s Malouf first, daylight second in that contest. And White thirteenth.

  6. Arthur Calwell and Dorothy Hewett « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] the last minute I tried to get to see the Bell Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It at the Canberra Playhouse, but decent tickets for the three of us were not to be […]

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