Review: As You Like It by Imaginarium Theatre ****
What’s more fickle than a Shakespearean lover’s kiss? That would be the British summer– as audiences are well aware.
So, while the first half of Imaginarium Theatre’s vibrant production of As You Like It at Reynolds Park in Woolton was temperate summer’s day, it was full-on (winter and) rough weather as the action reached its climax after the interval.
Still, swapping wine glasses for waterproofs (and some stoical souls defiantly juggling both) is practically part of the shared experience of open-air theatre season.
And it didn’t dampen what was a spirited performance from Imaginarium’s merry band of players, returning after an absence last year caused by the ongoing Covid pandemic and its accompanying restrictions.
Love, hate, loyalty, jealousy, forgiveness, and – one of the Bard’s favourite conceits - hidden identities and gender fluidity combine to make this pastoral romp one of his busier plots.
But artistic director Gaynor La Rocca, assisted by Kieran McCarthy-Hoare, handles it all with skill to bring the many strands together in a coherent whole.
Imaginarium last performed the comedy in 2016, and a number of that cast reprise their roles here, including La Rocca's daughter Robyn as Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s strongest women characters.
In fact, while written in an era of male domination, the play features quite a few blustering, weak men who set in sharp relief a clutch of feisty females, offering some great roles which the actors (including Faye Draper as Celia, Mary Dowrick – a glorious Phoebe, and Imaginarium regular Carmel Skelly as the homely shepherdess Audrey) seize with alacrity.
Meanwhile Joseph Harding is a puppyish innocent abroad as Rosalind’s beloved Orlando, and there are entertaining supporting performances including Francesco La Rocca as the wise fool Touchstone.
The story is told with clarity, although occasionally the actors need to project more – particularly when competing with the drumming of rain against umbrellas!
But Imaginarium is a community company which performs to a professional standard, and this As You Like It, touring to gardens and parks across Merseyside over the summer, certainly maintains that reputation.
Top: Joseph Harding and Robyn La Rocca as Orlando and Rosalind. Photo by Bryan Fowler