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Review: As You Like It at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre by James Wright

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LOVE IN THE PARK: Rosalind and Orlando in Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre’s As You Like It    Photo courtesy of Storyhouse

We Are Chester’s James Wright heads to Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre to watch As You Like It, one of three productions being staged over the summer season. Find out what he thinks below.

The spirit of Shakespeare thrives in the gardens of Grosvenor

We live in a world where technology is progressing at an alarming rate. Cars, we are told year in, year out, are a few years away from being fully autonomous. Smartphones, based upon the ideas of Nikola Tesla over 100 years ago, are now the bane of modern face-to-face communication and relationships the world over as they take centre stage in our lives. And even our televisions and radios are becoming ‘smart’.

Sometimes it can feel hard to unwind and unplug ourselves from things, but I think I may have found an easy way to at least escape the clutches of 2016 for an evening, and it comes straight from the heart of Grosvenor Park.

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre is putting on performances of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Clive King’s Stig of the Dump throughout the months of July and August this year, and, as an extra special treat courtesy of We Are Chester’s editor-in-chief Angela Ferguson, I had the privilege of going along to see a performance of As You Like It on a wonderful July evening.

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SHAKESPEARE AHOY: The audience take to their seats at the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre    Photo: James Wright

The Great Bard

Having never been all that interested or pushed towards the works of the Great Bard, my knowledge of anything Shakespeare basically ends at “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” However, as I have always been told, you must try everything once, and I am glad I did.

Chester has been the place to go for outdoor performances as of the past few years, with the Moonlight Flicks proving so popular last year that it has been instigated as a permanent summertime attraction, and Storyhouse putting on award-winning performances at the Open Air Theatre just a few short minutes walk from the Roman Amphitheatre.

The Open Air Theatre offers seating for up to 500 people per showing (535 for Stig of the Dump) and each seat offers a brilliant view of the action in the 360° theatre. If you get the chance, though, book yourselves one of the premium seats, where you will be provided with a wonderfully comfy fold-out seat, infinitely more pleasant on the old tushie.

Romantic evening

Whilst there is a small bar serving drinks and snacks, you are welcome to bring your own picnic supplies – something I found that most everyone else attending had done. The evening performances, which arguably are going to be the nicest and, should you be bothered about that sort of thing, the most romantic, all take place at 7:30pm sharp with an interval about an hour and a half in.

Looking at the information on the Open Air Theatre on their official website, you can find out a great deal of information regarding the performances, seating, and even the fact that they can provide you with a picnic if you order in advance.

Whilst you don’t need a luxurious hamper full of goodies to enjoy such a wonderful spectacle, it’s always nice to have that option isn’t it?

Romances played out

Okay, so I guess I should talk about the performance itself really. Whilst I am not here to tell you the ins and outs of As You Like It’s narrative, I will tell you the basic gist of the story. A young woman named Rosalind (Rose O’Loughlin), along with her best friend Celia (Charlotte Miranda-Smith) and the court clown Touchstone (Ben Tolley), leave the court of Celia’s father Duke Frederick (Ian Harris) who had usurped the court from Rosalind’s father and Frederick’s brother, Duke Senior (also played by Ian Harris).

Rosalind, who disguises herself as a man, Celia, who disguises herself as a poor woman, and Touchstone leave the court to head for the Forests of Arden where numerous romances are played out between the various characters.

Topsy-turvy lives

Rosalind’s man of fancy, Orlando (Fred Lancaster), meets Rosalind in the forest whilst she is disguised as a man and a series of promises are made involving marriage – if you think the topsy-turvy lives of the Brannings and the Mitchells are convoluted, you’ve seen nothing yet my dear reader.

The end of the play features a wonderful ceremony where each of the couples is wed by a goat gentleman in the forest, also known as Hymen, God of Marriage (Johnson Willis). I wish I was making that last sentence up.

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MAGICAL: Hymen, God of Marriage, does his stuff in the Forest of Arden      Photo courtesy of Storyhouse 

Top-notch performances

Whilst the story may seem bizarre, the performances on display were top-notch. It is great to see such talent, both young and old, on display for us here in Chester. In particular, Rose O’Loughlin, whether in the garb of a female or a male as Rosalind, delivered an hilarious performance throughout.

Ben Tolley in the role of Touchstone, together with his hand puppet, delivered one of the best examples of physical comedy I have yet to see on stage or screen. And, whilst it certainly would not have been scripted as such, the gentleman playing the melancholic Monsieur Jacques (John Seaward) went around those of us in the audience who weren’t clapping at the final song with his drum, banging the doldrums out of anyone who was not playing along. This was all in good fun of course and received a huge round of laughter for those of us close enough to witness it.

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PUPPET MASTER: Ben Tolley as court fool Touchstone     Photo courtesy of Storyhouse

All the world’s a stage

Sometimes it can be easy to get a little lost in all of the Shakespearean language, but you know you’re in for a good night when even the opening delivery of the (in)famous line “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” gives you goosebumps.

A comedy performance it may be, and whilst the laughs did come loud and clear throughout, the talent and dedication to their art that the actors showcased for us all on this night were certainly nothing to laugh at. Everyone working in front of and behind the scenes of the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre and for Storyhouse itself deserved every cheer and round of applause they got.

And let’s be honest, is there really a nicer, classier way to spend an evening out in Chester?

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SMILE: The obligatory GPOAT selfie from James Wright and Sophie Francis

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Photo: James Wright

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WELCOME: The colourful welcome marquee complete with bar    Photo: James Wright

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Photo: James Wright

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Photo: James Wright

About Angela Ferguson (76 Articles)
I'm a writer, journalist and blogger, as well as the founder and editor of culture webzine wearechester.co.uk. I'm also a university lecturer in journalism and media communications and a presenter at Flipside Radio.

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