Toronto’s Rarely Pure Theatre breathes modern life into Shakespeare’s As You Like It
I have noticed that the more Shakespeare I see, the more I enjoy it. Or maybe I am just seeing increasingly better productions. Rarely Pure Theatre’s production of As You Like It was enchanting and adorable.
The charm was everywhere as I walked to my seat in the Storefront Theatre. Before the play had even started the stage was set all over with snow-covered twigs.
As You Like It is quite possibly one of my favourite Shakespearean plays. A romantic comedy for the ages — banishment, true love, a forest, and four marriages. What more could you want? Women pretending to be men? That’s in there too.
Though made up of predominately first-class actors who were well-spoken and aware of their characters, this unfortunately did not reach across the board with everyone. After a bit of a slow start the cast got into the swing of things, and by intermission had found their groove. The cast did well at interpreting the text and I thought that the directing was spot on. The eye rolling, lude actions, gestures behind backs, and make out sessions portrayed a different, sarcastic, interpretation of the text. These physical jokes made the verbal jokes that much funnier.
After intermission we really got to see the best of the cast’s abilities. With singing and joking, the group was more relaxed in the jovial atmosphere of the latter part of the evening. I loved the singing and was thrilled when the duke demanded more of it. Singers Gaby Grice, David DiFrancesco, and guitarist Eric Bleyendaal sang in a campfire/ye-olde-English style while sitting on logs. Together these three were a great musical team.
As well versed in Shakespeare as this group of actors is, I felt they would have been more comfortable doing a modern adaptation of the work. The tone of the actors voices made it feel like it was just two people talking; a young couple you could run into at a bar on Queen West. This modern air about the play helped to pull this Shakespeare play out of the dusty past.
Touchstone, the jester, played by Ben Blais, stood out. As jesters do he brought insight and energy to the play. Blais’ lively approach to this character was quite adorable and fun to watch. In the last scene he had a great set of movements to accompany his monologue.
My theatre buddy for the night was not as comfortable with the old English, and found the Shakespearian language to be somewhat challenging. As a result she questioned the role of Jacques. Though Michael Hogan played Jacques quite well, he played Jacques as a mad man rather than cynic. Full of a crazed laughter, he seemed to humor the other characters rather than challenge them to think further on their situation. I found Hogan’s interpretation energetic and humorous, but not to the point.
Rarely Pure Theatre is a budding company with a lot of great potential. With such a charismatic team I am sincerely looking forward to what they are bringing to the Toronto Fringe Festival this summer.
- As You Like It is playing until January 26th at the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor St W)
- Shows run Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, with additional matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $15 – $20, and are available online, or at the door.
Photograph provided by the company of (L-R) Eric Bleyendaal, David DiFrancesco, Gaby Grice, Michael Hogan, and Brandon Knox.