For the last five weeks or so, The Bandshell Players have been rehearsing their latest Shakespearean production in the Wentworth Park venue that gave them their name.
Their open air rehearsals have attracted the curiosity of passerby: elderly couples out for an evening stroll, families on their bikes, young people enjoying the sun and warm weather–exactly the wide range of audience the Players want to see enjoying their play.
As You Like It, a pastoral romantic comedy, opens this Wednesday, June 26, and runs nightly at 7pm, rain or shine, in Sydney’s Wentworth Park Bandshell until Sunday, June 30, with admission by donation.
Like most Shakespearean love stories, the course of true love does not run smoothly. Rosalind is the daughter of a banished duke, who has exiled himself with his retinue to the lush forest of Arden. The usurping duke, Rosalin’s uncle, banishes her too, and she, disguised as a young man named Ganymede, and her cousin, Celia (Rosalind’s evil uncle’s daughter), with their fool, Touchstone, depart for Arden as well. Meanwhile, a young nobleman, Orlando, hard done by his greedy brother, Oliver, also runs afoul of the bad duke and departs for Arden as well. There are many comic scenes of wooing and mistaken identity and the play eventually ends with four weddings (but no funeral).
Bonnie MacLeod, the director, says the troupe decided to set this production in the 1990s because they “wanted the play to be familiar and to be fun and a little nostalgic: we have all the colours of the ’90s: neon, plaid, grunge and some Goth. Everyone in the cast, regardless of their age, had fun in the ’90s and we wanted to capture some of that.”
MacLeod also says, despite Shakespeare’s reputation of being difficult to follow, “I think there’s a reason these plays have been popular so long. At their core, they’re meant to be seen, not read, they have to be got up on their feet. This comedy has goofy characters that are recognizable from movies and TV even now.”
MacLeod adds, “There is something new to find in every production, no matter how many times it has been done before. Shakespeare meant his plays to be seen by a diverse audience–kids, adults, theatre savvy crowds, people who have never been to a play before in their lives. That’s our mandate: Bring theatre back to the public.”
Jenn Tubrett plays Rosalind who, at one point in the story, is “a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman”.
Tubrett says, “I think the adaptation Bonnie did is really clear and has some surprises, which is trickier with this play since most people know the plot.”
She also says the Bandshell is a unique location and is “not used as often as it should be; anyone walking around downtown Sydney can stumble into some great theatre.”
Eric Letcher, who plays Orlando, has a particular challenge during a wrestling scene early in the play.
“The hardest part is the pace of it. It’s based on ’90s pro wrestling–WWF, Hulk Hogan, that stuff–with some iconic ’90s moves,” he says. “I give a big scream and then have to keep my breathe after its over to do a regular scene where Orlando woos Rosalind. It’s a real cardiovascular workout.”
While most of the cast are returnees from The Bandshell Players inaugural productions last year—A Midsummer Night’s Comedy and Macbeth–there are a few new faces in the cast.
Andrew Balakshin, from Chilliwack, British Columbia, is a cadet at the Point Edward Coast Guard College who saw auditioning for this play as a chance “to try something new and meet new some new people. And these people are awesome.”
A friend of Bandshell Player Amber Craig and her husband (another Coast Guard College cadet), Balakshin saw Midsummer last year and “was impressed by the quality of the acting.” (read a review here)
He is enjoying the experience and the theatre coaching that comes with his two roles as “a country folk person and a lord following the Duke around”.
The play is suitable for families and audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets to sit on. Hot beverages will be available for a nominal charge or for free if you bring your own mug.