Bard on the Beach
As You Like It

When & Where June 8 – September 30, 2023, evenings at 7.30, Sundays at 2pm | BMO Mainstage, Vanier Park

Director Daryl Cloran Musical Director Ben Elliott Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre Set Designer Pam Johnson Sound Designer Owen Hutchinson Lighting Designer Gerald King Choreographer/Fight Director Jonathan Hawley Purvis Dance Captain Sharon Crandall Intimacy Director Melanie Yeats Production Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith Musicians Sally Zori, Isaiah Terrell-Dobbs

Reviewer John Jane

Bard on the Beach opens their thirty-fourth season with a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s pastoral comedy As You Like It.

Director Daryl Cloran’s whimsical re-imagining is a delightfully entertaining piece of theatre, but hardly one for Bard purists. Cloran moves the action from late sixteenth century in the Forest of Arden to the Okanagan in the sixties. Duke Frederick and Duke Senior have been replaced with Dame Frances and Dame Senior as the truculent siblings.

While Cloran has retained the play’s primary elements of sibling conflict, cross-dressing and the resulting mistaken identities, the most obvious element in this playful version is that Cloran has removed a good chunk of the original text to make way for a couple of dozen Beatles songs that somehow get worked into the narrative.

Combining a Shakespeare comedy with contemporary music is really nothing new to Daryl Cloran. Back in 2015, I had the pleasure of attending a BOTB production of Love’s Labour’s Lost where the director moved the setting to a Chicago speakeasy in the ‘Roaring Twenties.’

The play centres on star-crossed lovers Rosalind and Orlando who both find themselves, for different reasons, seeking refuge in the Okanagan. Rosalind having been cruelly banished by her aunt Dame Frances and Orlando escaping his older brother Oliver’s plans to have him killed. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando when seeing him victorious in a wrestling match and gives him a chain to wear. Rosalind takes Celia and Touchstone with her to the forest and artfully disguises herself as Ganymede (a man). When she runs into Orlando for the second time, he is tricked by her appearance and allows Ganymede to coach him in the art of courtship.

Chelsea Rose as Rosalind (Ganymede) and Oscar Derkx as Orlando display wonderful on-stage chemistry together as well as taking on a fair share of the singing. Ms. Rose in particular has a terrific voice and performs “You’ve got to Hide your Love Away” as Ganymede with a little tongue-in-cheek.
Andrew McNee more than holds his own as the court jester Touchstone, who along with Emma Slipp as the delightfully quirky Audrey, gets the second act moving in the right direction with “When I’m 64.” It’s McNee who keeps the audience laughing as the wrestling MC in the pre-show.

Just as impressive is Jennifer Lines in sagacious in a dual portrayal of the diametrically opposite roles of the feuding sisters (in this production). BOTB veteran Scott Bellis turns in a nuanced performance as the melancholic Jaques. He even gets most of the best lines including the renowned "All the world's a stage" monologue as well pulling off “I am the Walrus” and “Fool on the Hill” - which hardly dovetail into the storyline.

Of the supporting players, I really liked watching Alexandra Lainfiesta, both as the campy Eleanor Rigby in the pre-show and as the absurdly conceited Phoebe who offers up a sparkling rendition of the George Harrison composition “Something.”

Designer Carmen Alatorre’s flamboyant clothing truly brings out the “Flower Power” theme that was prevalent in the nineteen-sixties and Pam Johnson’s ostentatious scenic design that incorporates a well-padded wrestling ring giving the production a distinct quality.

As You Like It is an immensely satisfying theatre experience that audiences don’t just want to see, but to actually take part in. It’s also worthwhile getting to your seat about fifteen minutes early to participate in the pre-show extravaganza.

© 2023 John Jane