Shared Experience on the road with As You Like It

The cast of As You Like It enjoyed a blissful summer with their very own Forest of Arden.

As You Like It at Theatre By The Lake. Jessica Hayles (Rosalind) and cast. Photo credit Keith Pattison.
As You Like It at Theatre By The Lake. Jessica Hayles (Rosalind) and cast. Photo credit Keith Pattison.

Now they are on the road, bringing the Shared Experience brand of magic and imagination to audiences up and down the country including Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on November 21-22 and the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth on November 24-25.

Jessica Hayles, who is playing Rosalind, said: “It has been wonderful. We did the show for four months in the Lake District over the summer, in Keswick, which was absolutely beautiful. The whole cast had a summer of exploring the Lake District and going up and down fells. It was almost like we had our very own Forest of Arden to explore. It was fantastic!

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“Obviously, it is still the same production on tour, and it is interesting to see how audiences react differently, how they laugh in different places. Audiences everywhere are different. I think it just depends on things like how much theatre they watch, how used to going to the theatre they are, how much they know Shared Experience, all the things like that.”

The production comes as Shared Experience is enjoying a bit of a renaissance: “They have got three new brilliant directors. I think they had been quiet for a little while. They have not done as many shows for a time, but this is the return. Shared Experience is all about sharing, obviously. But they are also very visual, and there is quite often movement, visual movement to bring out the character and the truth of the story. I haven’t worked with Shared Experience before, but I have wanted to. I went to the audition and said I had known about the company for a long time.

“Rosalind is fantastic to play. As soon as I read the play or re-read it, I started to feel a connection with Rosalind. I felt I could relate to her thoughts and her journey. Her thoughts started to come very quickly to me. Even while I was still working on the language, I felt that that connection was there.”

Set in the modern world of alternative facts and fiercely-jealous leaders, the young Rosalind and her friend Celia find themselves pawns in a power struggle. Together they decide to flee the city and its politics for the forest where they discover a countryside wonderland of peace and harmony. Disguised as a boy, Rosalind meets Orlando and counsels him in the art of love.

“There is a lot about traits that are female or male being put onto women… or even men, but it is so lovely to see the two sides to Rosalind. When she is Rosalind, she is Rosalind in a bad place, but she really finds her feet as Ganymede, but even though she is playing a boy, I think all the traits are still Rosalind. She remains Rosalind. She is still aware of what she is doing, but being Ganymede gives her the freedom to be Rosalind. There is nothing that she can’t actually do as Rosalind, but it is just that she is not allowed to.”

As for the production itself, it has moved away from the traditional ducal setting in favour of a modern, could-be-now political setting, with the two opposing sides broadly the political left and the political right: “It is supposed to be now, set in the present, with the regime as the political system. I think these days everyone is feeling a little bit oppressed, a little bit like they are wanting an escape, a feeling like the whole world is crumbling, and that’s what our Forest of Arden represents, an escape.”