As You Like It is the first Shakespeare for Canadian Stage’s Dream In High Park in three years. This pastoral comedy is a fitting return for the bard to this outdoor venue. The story unfolds in the dreamy Forest of Arden, and so the surrounding wilderness of the park seems teeming with narrative possibility.
The play opens with brothers Orlando and Oliver bickering over their right to the family name and fortune. Orlando, sick of being neglected as an equal and rightful heir, escapes into the forest. Meanwhile, Rosalind, daughter of the usurped Duke Senior, is exiled. Daughter of the current duke, Celia, in solidarity with her best friend, escapes into the forest with Rosalind.
Comedic shenanigans ensue as nobles interact with a variety of local herds-folk. Romantic pursuits abound, identities are mistaken, and, by the end, exiled royals are welcomed back by a repentant duke and we conclude with no less than four weddings!
Director Anand Rajaram’s production is bursting with cartoonish whimsy. Forest animals scamper and squawk, hand-painted exotic flowers sprout up from the stage. In their colourful sets, costumes and props, Shadowland Theatre provides a world of floral delights and maintains a heady atmosphere of dress-up and horseplay.
This fanciful aesthetic governs the performances too. Characters speak in a vast array of accents, from gangster thug to southern drawl, so that each personality is vocally distinct and tailored for maximum comedic potential. It shouldn’t work yet it absolutely does.
Rajaram’s framing of the story raises the antics above mere schtick. He bookends all the artifice by having the actors begin and end the play in neutral clothing. This community of dutiful thespians is united by the clarion call of a conch shell. Both actor and character, in turn, are inventing their world, willing it into being. Elegant and moving, this suggests an aspect of sacred ritual to the telling of even the goofiest stories.
The cast is, across the board, enchanting. I was particularly charmed by Bren Eastcott’s giddy Rosalind. My favourite scenes from the play—where, disguised as a shepherd boy, she coaches Orlando (Paolo Santalucia) as a suitor for herself!—are silly and touching in equal measure. Another highlight for me is Ken Hall’s Duke Senior. Flipping his heels and shaking his tambourine, his affable quirks bring pure joy.
Maja Ardal’s haunting rendition of the iconic “All the world’s a stage” speech—the wisdom relayed here by Orlando’s elderly, faithful servant Adam instead of Jaques—is a heartfelt, quietly vulnerable spectacle that captures all the poetry and grounds its human truth.
Shout-out to Landon Doak, who stepped into Touchstone’s shoes due to an illness in the company. Even with script in-hand, his charisma and timing were consistently on point and prevented any break in the vibe. In classic minstrel form, Belinda Corpuz provides stirring musical accompaniment that contributes greatly to the overall magic of the evening.
As You Like It is an endearing summer treat for the whole family and an ideal introduction to Shakespeare for youngsters.