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Sunday, September 28, 2008


Large cast gives a lively, entertaining, modern performance of Shakespeare's much loved tale of family feuds, courtship and love. (Review by Maurice Kort)

Presented by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Drama & Performance Studies Department and directed by Tamar Meskin and Verne Rowin Munsamy, As you Like It, one of William Shakespeare’s most popular and often-performed comedies, with a large double cast of students, opens in the court of Rowland de Boys although most of the action takes place in the forest of Arden. The sets, designed by Mervyn McMurtry, are very attractive and most effective, much use being made of back projection for the forest scenes.

For those not familiar with the well-known plot, it concerns the feud between two brothers, Orlando and Oliver, the youngest and oldest sons of Rowland de Boys, respectively, and the love and courtship of Orlando and Rosalinda, daughter of the banished Duke Senior. She has to flee from the court of her nasty cousin, Duke Frederick, to the Forest of Arden, accompanied by her cousin, Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick. For her safety, she disguises herself as a man, which obviously leads to many complications.

The theme of the play being love and marriage, the path of true love never running smoothly, there are three subplots of the loves of three other couples - Oliver and Celia, a case of love at first sight; Touchstone, the clown, and a not-too-bright country wench, Audrey; and a couple of simple shepherds, Silvius and Phebe. Adding much to the complicated plot is Phebe's absolute disdain and scorn for Silvius and complete infatuation and love for Rosalind in her guise as a man.

The production, running at three hours which includes a fifteen minute interval, could do with some judicial pruning, especially as it includes musical interludes, for example an opening song with beautiful tableaux of the cast principals but which doesn't add much to the plot, a dance sequence which includes bop, the twist, the shuffle and several other dancing styles, which make it rather a hodge-podge, a rap number, original and fitting the modern age but rather jarring in a Shakespearean production, and a big finish musical number, starting with Mamma Tembu's Getting Married the choreography of which needed more co-ordination and polish. Such finales belong more to Broadway musicals and, although it might be a good idea to cross cultures to attract young audiences, it must be extremely well done to achieve its purpose.

That said, these modern innovations were enormous hits with the younger members of the audience. The costumes, designed by Tamar Meskin, Rowin Munsamy and Kirsten Tait, were also very modern but were in too many varied styles which, to my mind, jarred, contemporary as they might have aimed to be.

As to the performances, as it was a double cast, these comments apply to the actors in the performance I saw and it was a stout effort. Fezeka Mbona as Rosalind, who carries most of the action, impressed with many delightful body moves and there was good rapport between her and Tamika Sewnarain as Celia, especially in the first act and with Grant Jacobs as her love interest, more so later in the play. David Wilson impressed as Touchstone, the clown, as did Farai Nigel Gwaze as Jaques, a nobleman, who has that well-known speech "All the World's a Stage and All the Men and Women Merely Players" which he did most energetically and well. Xolile Gumede was a standout bouncy performance as Phebe, Brett Collopy was a suitably subservient Silvius, and Zanele Thobela was Audrey, Touchstone’s love interest. The wrestling match early in the play between Orlando and Charles, a wrestler at Duke Frederick’s court, was very well done. - Maurice Kort