Before their smash hit Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Symmetric Mailshot, CtrlAltRepeat began a series of classic plays reimagined for Zoom: Midsummer Night Stream, The Importance of BCC-ing Earnest, and As You Like It. I saw the first of these plays back in April, but never got round to watching the rest – so Shakespeare week is an ideal time to start catching up.
In this production, instead of living at the court the characters are all current or former employees of Court Games – Frederick Duke has ousted his brother (the company’s founder) to take control as CEO. You’re immediately given a run-down of the situation as it stands by way of Le Beau Gaming News: lockdown edition – relevant clips interspersed with play-specific detail to set the foundations of this world. They neatly reconfigure Orlando’s wrestling match with Charles as a highly competitive game of Sonic the Hedgehog between Orlando and his elder brother Oliver. When in peril, Rosalind, Celia & co. all escape into the immersive new video game Arden, which doubles as a social platform; they can present themselves however they want, and interact with whoever they encounter within the world of the game.
Setting the play up like this works perfectly on so many levels; firstly, it makes Rosalind & Celia’s disguises as Ganymede & Aliena that bit more believable (there’s very little chance of recognising them from their avatars and whatever voice they choose to put on), it means Rosalind can react truthfully to her exchanges with Orlando without being seen, it enables the characters to come together in a way that doesn’t break any self-isolation restrictions – plus there’s no need for anyone to create a forest in their front room, as we can all either imagine it or see it come to life in video game style snippets. Unlike some new pandemic-inspired pieces that are so true to life it just makes you depressed watching them, this is the fantastical kind of production that we need – it acknowledges the situation, but actively tries to make things feel a little better.
Interestingly, the setting assists in tying up the loose end that is Adam’s disappearance (it’s always satisfying when productions consider these details) and instead of meeting Audrey, Touchstone develops a relationship with Corin – another character introduced and then never seen again. The play comes to a close with the characters using the social platform aspect of Arden to meet each other face-to-face via video call, which makes Rosalind’s ‘magic’ slightly more relatable to our non-Renaissance sensibilities.
There are superb performances all round, though I did especially enjoy the dry humour of Tom Black’s Jaques (labelled as ‘Moderator’ on Zoom) and Steven Rodgers as Touchstone – bored with Rosalind & Celia’s chatter about Orlando, trying to amuse himself with a book, juggling & then playing a musical instrument. Joanna Brown leads the play brilliantly as Rosalind, injecting wit & joy as she makes her way around Arden.
The odd technical mishap aside, this is a really inventive way of presenting Shakespeare and thoughtful use of the technology available. Concept and play fit together really neatly, working in harmony rather than competing for dominance; if you’ve never seen As You Like It before, this would be a great place to start. It’s enough to make you want to get started on an Arden adventure of your own!