While he never accounted for the planes or fruit bats, the outdoor arena is how old Will would have wanted his play set. Once the sun sets over the simple red stage and the couples (young and old) in the audience recline into their picnic rugs, the play comes to life against the backdrop of two of Sydney’s iconic bridges.
As you Like It has always been a crowd-pleaser with its witty one-liners and gender-bending characters, and director Julie Baz manages to deliver a show that is as enchanting as it is profound. The two female leads drive the plot – the love-sick but headstrong Rosalind (Emily Elise) and her sweet, devoted cousin Celia (Caitlin Maruno).
After an ill-fated boxing match (complete with satin boxer shorts) Celia suggests the women exile themselves to the Forest of Arden and motions Rosalind to become their protector by parading as a man. It is in the forest where the play really finds its feet. Rosalind’s transformation into her male alter-ego Ganymede is natural and she brings not only fortitude, but comedy, to the role – albeit looking a little like Oliver Twist.
Celia plays the unassuming peasant girl well, however she rarely has the chance to shine, overshadowed by her cross-dressing cousin and the court Jester, Touchstone, who practically steals the show as their delightfully camp guide. The homo-eroticism is stretched to the limits – Jaques is played by a man in a fruit basket bonnet who delivers his lines dangerously, and seductively, close to the Jester. Baz could well be channeling Priscilla Queen of the Desert, or perhaps she just knows her Sydney audience well, continually sprinkling the play with a sexual overtones.
The only downfall of the production is the poor sound – the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech was drowned out by an untimely gust of wind over Blackwattle Bay and some of the actors struggled at times to project their voices over the elements.
Fortunately, Touchstone’s delicious line “can one desire too much of a good thing?” is delivered with poignancy and a cheeky poke at the decadent harbour setting.
If innuendo and twisted romance are your thing, pick a balmy evening, a bottle of wine and take in the play before it ends on February 22 – you’ll find out just how good too much of a good thing can be.
Until Feb 22, Bicentennial Park, Glebe Foreshore, $17-29. Much Ado About Nothing plays on alternative nights until Feb 24. sydneyshakespearefestival.com.au