This song has been stuck in my head throughout the merry month of May, ever since I spent a charmed afternoon watching a matinee performance of As You Like It at Corpus Christie College, co-directed by John Retallack and Renata Allen of the Oxford Playmaker and performed as part of the college’s 500th-anniversary celebrations. I had gone there expecting to watch a students’ play and came away enriched by a remarkable experience of great theatre.
The play was set around multiple locations around the college. The audience followed the scenes at the garden, the cloister, a cosy auditorium set up as the Forest of Arden, the college chapel and the hall. The cast consisted entirely of students and staff, and yet the play was nothing less than professional. Each actor lived their role on the stage as they emoted, fought, fell in love, fainted, philosophised, wooed, teased, hunted, dined, played the fool, sang and danced through the play. Orlando’s frustration over his life at the beginning of the play came through as earnestly as his devotion to his lady-love in the later scenes, as did Oliver’s cruelty and subsequent transformation. Both Rosalind and Celia had immense stage presence as well as the chemistry of devoted cousins whose lively dialogue was at the heart of the story. Touchstone was the star of the show, stealing every scene with her exuberant presence, whether it was grudgingly accompanying the cousins to the forest, leading the audience (sometimes literally) to the next scene, wooing an equally brilliant Audrey or kicking the simpleton William off the stage in a sequence of comic dance steps. The actors from amongst the staff were as effective – the genial Senior Duke and the wicked Duke Frederick, the devoted Adam and honest Corin could not have been any better.
All five songs set to music by Howard Goodall were rendered melodiously. Amiens cast a spell on the audience with her songs that invoked both the pastoral setting and the philosophy of the simple life. Every aspect of the play came together perfectly – the idyllic settings of Corpus Christie in spring, the lilting music, and the talented cast. The fourth wall was pushed aside regularly and deliberately to include the audience, as characteristic of the Bard’s comedies.
A very few minor quibbles. Rosalind and Celia batting their eyelashes to convey that they were falling in love appeared artificial, for the actors are naturally good without the need for histrionics. Jacques delivered his much celebrated lines beautifully but he was too lively, without the melancholy that marked the original character. Orlando could have attacked the Duke’s table brandishing a sword rather than a gun. But overall it was a magical performance which took the audience back in time to the Bard’s own theatre.
On the way to the play, I was reading my textbook in which Professor Waugh elaborates on how ‘‘all the world is not of course a stage’ and ‘the crucial ways in which it isn’t’’ (Waugh, P.4). But the play restored a gentler, simpler world on the stage. A world in which life was lucidly defined in black and white and despite the Bard’s caution that ‘most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly’, people still believed in friendship, true love, and happy endings. The effect was rather overwhelming. When the play concluded with drinks and cheers to Corpus Christi, I wanted, like the others in the audience to congratulate the cast, to greet the Professor whose guidance was visible throughout the performance and hang out with my classmates in the audience. Instead I left quietly, unwilling to break the spell around me, hoping to hold on to the enchantment for a few more hours before the grey post-postmodernism of real life took over.
Watched an amazing performance of the play Club Asylum by John Retallack on Sunday evening. The energy of the actors was incredible as they read from the script, bringing out various emotions of refugees who are bound for Glasgow, or are living there. The effect of chorus in dramatic dialogue which Retallack taught us the previous day, came through wonderfully in the play. The success of the presentation was a testimony to the strength of the script and the talent of the four actors considering that they had rehearsed for only an hour before the performance.
When compared to the musical London Road by Alecky Blythe that we read and enacted a few scenes from last year, the effect of chorus in drama came out clearly through the play. London Road is an experimental musical drama based on the Ipswich serial murders, with dialogue reproduced verbatim from actual interviews. The chorus scene in which the residents discussed the murders and how it affected them (‘Could have been next door to you!…/They must have sleepless nights / I know I do’) brought out emotions of anxiety and fear among the readers – our voices dropped almost automatically to a worried muttering as we read together from the script.
Whereas in Club Asylum, which was not a reading but an actual performance by professional actors, the chorus was loud and vibrant. The actors’ voices rose naturally at points like (‘I hate my foreign name / I hate my foreign face / I hate my stupid english / I hate to have to live in this … scottish place’) expressing the resentment, frustration, pain and helplessness of the refugees. It was poignant and painful, and thought-provoking.
A single note jarred for me, though: when the chorus spoke of ‘refugees from India’. Refugees and from India? Throughout history, India has only given asylum to people from around the world, having been the most inclusive of all societies which has taken in people who wanted to stay and for a long period of its history welcomed every foreigner according to tradition as an honoured guest and a trusted friend (the repercussions of which are a different story). There are no refugees from India, except perhaps the absconding Indian business tycoons hiding in London who aren’t refugees in the sense of the word as it was used in the play. Reminded me for no reason of a recent conversation with a colleague in my day job – we spoke of how highly educated young men and women now choose to live in India rather than migrate abroad as now India has everything, including the facilities of any developed country.
I suppose that is the effect of all great drama, as all great art, which makes one think at both personal and universal levels about the thoughts and themes presented through its words.