‘As You Like It’ at The Wharf Theatre

 

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I went to the dress rehearsal for the Wharf Theatre’s production of ‘As You Like It’, directed by Liz Sharman, on Sunday.

Described as a pastoral comedy, ‘As You Like It’ is thought to have been written in 1599 and would have been played to an audience of mixed social status and varying degrees of education.  Not being familiar with the play I did some reading before I went, and not for the first time was amazed at the extraordinary level of analysis that has been applied to it over the years.

What if sometimes Shakespeare just wrote stuff for fun?

‘As You Like It’ is a story of lovers and fools, relationships and rivalry, romance and reconciliation.

Duke Senior, having been deposed by his brother Duke Frederick, has set up camp in the Forest of Arden.  Back in the court his daughter Rosalind has fallen in love with Orlando, the son of one of Duke Frederick’s enemies, during a wrestling match arranged by Orlando’s brother Oliver in order to get rid of him.

Asa result of the wrestling match both Rosalind and Orlando are separately cast out of the court.  Rosalind dresses as a man and takes to the forest with Celia, Duke Frederick’s daughter, who disguises herself as Rosalind’s sister, and Touchstone, a jester.  Orlando, accompanied by his elderly servant Adam, also takes to the forest, and occupies himself looking for Rosalind and leaving appalling poetry in trees.

Other characters of note are Jacques, a fool/traveller/hermit, shepherds Corin, Silvius and Phoebe, and Audrey, a goatherd, and smaller parts include a vicar, the Spirit of Summer, singers and minor lords.

The set was simple and effective, with a plain white backdrop and flowers, and trees indicated by struts of wood and subtle coloured shadows.  Characters were dressed in a combination of Victorian and present-day dress, and the songs (there are more songs in this than in any other Shakespeare play) were folky and traditional with hey nonny nos and contemporary overtones.

Actors, then; what struck me most was the different ways they handled the complex script.  There are two ways to read Shakespeare, full on theatrical and naturalistic, and both styles were mingled here with good results.  Whilst it was easy to spot the trained actors in this show everyone delivered their lines well and there were very few hiccups.

Helen Langford played a feisty and modern Rosalind (the largest female part in Shakespeare) with admirable principal boy verve and mischief, and Lucy Upward gave a fine performance as her cousin and confidante, Celia.  Lewis Cowen was suitably regal and wise as Duke Senior, and Phil Greenaway (in his first Shakespeare role), and Duncan Delmar played Orlando and Silvius respectively in endearingly hapless and lovelorn fashion.

But it was the fools who stole the show for me.  There’s a lot about foolishness and wisdom in this play, and it is the fools and the folk of the fields who have the best lines.

‘All the world’s a stage’ muses the melancholy and world-weary Jacques, played by Oli Beech with glorious floridity, and ‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’ says Touchstone, played as a charismatic Northern lad by Daz Beatson.

‘As You Like It’ is full of sage advice on love and life, comedy moments, and fine little intricate speeches.  I enjoyed Touchstone’s explanation of the seven causes and Jacques’ performance of the seven ages of man; I laughed at the vicar on the scooter and the phrases ‘country copulatives’ and ‘the horn, the horn, the lusty horn’, at Abigail Newton’s hilarious portrayal of Audrey the clumsy goatherd, at the sheep noises (not sure I was supposed to laugh at that bit), and at Orlando’s terrible poetry; I thought the wrestling was exciting, and the music wistful (credit to Stuart Mayling for his musical and wrestling skills), and I liked the wordplay.

And I looked for the grand themes referred to in my researches on Google.

Echoes of Ecclesiastes, echoes of Arcadia – oh it’s deep enough in places, and the more intellectual types in Shakespeare’s audience would have found plenty to delight them. You could analyse this play till the sheep come home (four centuries of analysis, for goodness’ sake!) but it is predominantly a wild and witty romp, and I think Liz Sharman’s wonderfully lively and watchable production hit exactly the right note.

Shakespeare wrote this for fun, and The Wharf Theatre’s production of ‘As You Like It’ is a fun show.

Shakespeare, fun?  Yes, really!

Well done.

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© Gail Foster 11th March 2019

(review and photographs)

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Many Mansions; for Sister David Lewis

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Photograph of Sister David Lewis reproduced by kind permission of Scott Coleman

Sister David Lewis taught for many years at St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Devizes in Wiltshire, and will be remembered by many with affection and gratitude. 

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I’m crying for a Catholic nun

Who once was kind to me

As I sat there in my miniskirt

Bad mother, C of E

“Sister David, the police came round

And battered down the door”

“Well, do you know, my dear,” she said

“I’ve heard that one before”

And she blessed me, without blinking

With a smile on her face

And I knew I was forgiven

Hail Mary, full of grace

And I can hear as clear as day

The words she said to me

“In my father’s house, my dear,

There many mansions be”

*

© Gail Foster 29th December 2016

 

Marah and The Well

marah

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‘Twas dawn when Marah went down to the well

To fill her pail with waters bitter sweet

The sky, flushed pink with daybreak’s blooming swell

Made rosy dewdrops glimmer ‘neath her feet

The well was hard to find, and deeply hid

Within the sacred forest’s leafy fold

With ivy dressed, and writ upon its lid

In graven letters, words of wisdom old

Here water calls to water, here a stream

May conjured be by sorrow to a flood

Should tears like fishes fall and catch the gleam

Of sunlight, then shall water rise like blood

The air was still, unbroken by the lark

As Marah dropped her pail in to the dark

As Marah dropped her pail in to the dark

She held her breath, and watched it disappear

Stood firm, and stopped her heartbeat, lest a spark

Of morning’s glory light a single tear

But pain is force, that seeks to find a form

As hard to stem as ocean’s endless roll

And ‘spite her will, within her broke a storm

That rose unwanted from her ancient soul

Her tears burst forth, and waterfalls of streams

Flowed down and struck the surface of the deep

And as they fell were lit by glittered beams

Of sunlight, and the dead were woke from sleep

The waters rose, grew violent in their swell

Thus so did Marah ope the gate of hell

Thus so did Marah ope the gate of hell

Thus so unlock the door of death and birth

Unleash a tide too powerful to quell

Unloose the grief of all the souls of earth

Made waters rise, to breach the old well’s rim

Pour up, and drown the flowers in the grass

Caused birds to cease in flight, the sky grow dim

And clouds to form as shadows upon glass

She stood aghast, as heavy as a stone

As whorls of water swirled around her dress

Stood drowning in the forest there, alone

Too late to pray, to hope, or to confess

The waters closed above her sorry head

As Marah joined the legions of the dead

As Marah joined the legions of the dead

Her eyes began to fill with blood and light

With all the tears that man had ever shed

With all the dark and horror of the night

And floating past her, man and woman, child

All weeping, weeping, screaming in their pain

Possessed by loss and loneliness, gone wild

With disappointment, or the guilt of Cain

Here unborn souls, who died within the womb

Here mothers mourning infants took to death

Here those imprisoned, tortured to the tomb

Who cried for life with one last feeble breath

With those whose love was thwarted or dismayed

In one unending terrible parade

In one unending terrible parade

The labourers, the weary hungry poor

Those men who lost each pitch and toss they played

Who only spake the raven’s ‘nevermore’

With those stood on the shoreline when the Ark

Set sail for freedom and new hope of day

And those who, as they listened to the lark

Were by some wave or bullet took away

The blood of martyrs mingled with the tears

So sadly shed by all humanity

By souls lost to the night, who met their fears

On mountain tops, on roadsides, or the sea

So this is pain, thought Marah, here is shown

More sorrow here than I have ever known

More sorrow here than I have ever known

More pain than I could ever comprehend

And yet this pain in some sense is mine own

To rise above, to conquer, and transcend

And with this revelation, Marah rose

Up through the deeps, towards the hazy light

Unwove her being from the tangled flows

Flew through the waters like a climbing kite

Up, up she went, past all the weeping dead

And blessed them as she passed, for bless she could

Then broke the waters with her joyful head

And breathed the air that blew so fresh and good

Across the grass where once a flood had been

As if had been a mirage she had seen

As if had been a mirage she had seen

Seemed all the world just light, on rock and tree

All colourful, all shades of blue and green

And all that pain become but memory

She heard a whisper, soft within her ear

Go forth, and hold this lesson in your heart

You sought for answers, and you found them here

Now take them to the world and play your part

She picked her silver pail up, and she ran

The well sat silent, watched her fade away

Sat waiting, for another questing man

To learn its wisdom on another day

This is my legend, for ‘tis mine to tell

‘Twas dawn when Marah went down to the well…

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© Gail Foster September 21st 2016

Reasoning with Icarus

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Icarus, mate, come on down from that ledge

Lest a mischievous breeze tip you over the edge

Icarus, mate, you’re a worrying sight

And your winged silhouette is obscuring the light

Begone, Doubting Thomas, stop talking to me

I am glittered and feathered and wild and free

The skies sparkle sapphire, the winds are all still

And I’ll do what I wish, and I’ll fly as I will

Icarus, dude, you’re just not talking sense

And you’re coming across as unwisely intense

Your delusions of flying are frankly absurd

Mate, don’t get me wrong, I’m just having a word

And what would you know about flying with wings

You with yer earthly material things

Go crawling back under yer sensible stone

And leave my ethereal being alone

Icarus, mate, we all know you’re odd

Just a little bit Satan, a little bit God

You can call me a stick in the mud or a liar

But Icarus, mate, you are Not the Messiah

Fool, look at my wings, and admire my glory

Generations to come will be telling my story

As I shimmer with beauty, all shining, transparent

Oh, see me and weep, I am spirit apparent

Icarus, friend, it’s like clearly your call

But isn’t it rather a long way to fall

Come down, smell the flowers in the meadows of Crete

For the grass on this side is as lovely, and sweet

You’re bugging me, friend, you’re a bee in my bonnet

Bear your own cross and hang sighing upon it

Put down your bow and desist with your arrows

And go back to flying with pigeons and sparrows

Icarus, mate, you’re as high as a kite

It so pains me to see your precarious plight

And unlike the Devil, I’m here to insist

That you turn from the edge, and like Jesus, resist

The breeze stirs my wings, all my quills are a quiver

I am flustered with light and electrical shiver

As I fill up my lungs with cold rarified breath

I am all full of grace, and not frightened of death

Icarus, mate, don’t do it, don’t do it

Come down from that height and we’ll sit and talk through it

For this lyrical mystical flight you intend

Is madness, just madness, my mythical friend

Talk to the wings, for I can’t hear you now

Hazy legions of angels are kissing my brow

No dark lamentation or dubious prayer

Will stop me from drinking the wine of the air

So I watched in dismay, as Icarus flew

For a moment he shone like the sun on the dew

I told you, he shouted, triumphant with glee

As the hint of his shadow swam light on the sea

There was pain in my heart, and a tear in my eye

For a moment I thought, perhaps he will fly

Then I watched in dismay, as he dropped like a stone

In a flurry of quills, and of wax, and of bone

Oh we all die alone, it is said by the wise

All dissolve in the sea, or are took by the skies

But black is the comedy known by the dead

For I died when Icarus fell on my head

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© Gail Foster 2016

Here Speaks The Magic Work Of Raymond John

Inspired by the writings of Raymond John Burt…

 

Here speaks the magic work of Raymond John

Intrigue in reference, delight in phrase

I’m curious as to what, my friend, you’re on

That powers your pen to so the mind amaze

Let he that has an ear be still and hear

Let she who has an eye seek out the light

For here some crazy wisdom doth appear

On wild wings of angels in the night

For Love and God and Death and Grace and Hell

Within your words take buttered toast and tea

More syllabub, Beelzebub?  Pray tell

What syllables might set the Sibyls free

Get thee behind me, ghosts, take flight, be gone!

Here speaks the magic work of Raymond John

 

© Gail from Devizes 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serving the Grail; for Brad Combs

Brad is admin of the Writers’ Group on Facebook…

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A kindly sword and savage pen

Are the marks of a writer and leader of men

Blessed be he who came to teach

The wildness of wisdom and freedom of speech

Where fainter hearts might fall and fail

He stands to serve the Writer’s Grail

This ancient sage; this humble youth

This herder of cats; this teller of truth

Is he we know and love as Brad

Our literary Galahad

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by Gail

Preacher Man

the crazy preacher man

he speaks

to me

I and the crowd

hypnotised

confused

and squinting

his shadow stands

before the sun

his silver words

are slivering

forth from ancient nets

fisher of men

gathering

it may be so

maybe it was

ever so

and so

some say

it may well

ever be

yet know ye this

that nothing new

shall ever stand

against the sun

and speak as He

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by Gail