Crows Theatre presents a contentious subversion of audience expectation with As You Like It. While I love Shakespeare, this pastoral classic is not a favourite of mine. I was therefore not the least devastated by this “radical retelling” by Cliff Cardinal.
To honour the company’s request not to disclose the central conceit, I will indulge in abstractions. As a reviewer, I feel a sense of responsibility not just to readers, but to creators as well. This show—and the company’s request—has tested my allegiance to both. I consider it an exciting creative challenge.
There are a few reviews that spoil the key surprise of this production. I won’t provide links; they’re easy enough to find, but I don’t encourage you to read it, at least not before you have seen the production. You may have already read them, in which case, there is nothing I can do to fix that situation. If you have not yet read it: Congratulations! You have a special opportunity before you!
And a choice.
Though generally amused, I quickly became confused and a little irritated by the early stages of this production. I’m sure it will be different for each individual, but I had a very slow, bewildering realization that I’d been pranked—not out of spite, not as a gimmick, but to put me in a state where I was neither passive nor comfortable.
It was a lot like having the rug pulled out from under me—not quickly though. Cardinal gradually upset my footing, throwing me off-balance, until suddenly I was on the floor. It wasn’t too far to fall though. And I’m not that fragile. More importantly, from this position, I had a wonderful new perspective.
Cardinal draws you in with an endearingly mischievous energy. His comedic flourishes, though often disconcerting, are delightful. He takes his time to let you discover what his intentions are long before any explicit reveal.
It gets pretty dark and there are some sharp barbs that sting. Cardinal wants to test your vulnerability, he jabs at you just deep enough to expose whatever complacency or empathy lurks there.
The production might offend you. But anger is telling. It’s a signal. You should unpack it. Cardinal has unpacked his and used it to craft a theatrical environment that is both a deliberate provocation and a sincere invitation. It is anarchic and tender and seething and raw.
And important for us now!
I was rattled in a way I rarely am. And my not knowing the details of what to expect was a crucial aspect of the experience. There are reviews that have spoiled the ruse. Though honest and honourable, I think this complete transparency is, paradoxically, obstructive; it robs you of the chance to fully appreciate the production on your own terms. Don’t let it.