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Shakespeare meets the Wild West for Red Rose Chain rom-com in the forest As You Like It

PUBLISHED: 17:00 21 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:41 24 July 2017

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Wayne Savage

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Wayne Savage

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Theatre in the Forest returns to Jimmy’s Farm as Shakespeare meets the wild west (with a dash of Richard Curtis) in Red Rose Chain’s As You Like It.

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed

Theatre in the forest regulars will know there’s always a moment, usually about a third of the way through, of complete madness. The whole show’s like that this year laughs director Jo Carrick.

She and the cast - Emma Swan, Ryan Penny, Fizz Waller, Darren Latham and Jack Heydon – are in a jocular mood when I visit rehearsals.

They’ve already bonded by staving off five pigs who invaded their stage at Jimmy’s Farm. They later take turns to tease Ryan and Jack, who played Ed and Fred in Red Rose Chain’s The Three Bears recent storytelling workshops.

“They were actually reading their fan mail at lunch,” laughs Fizz.

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Wayne Savage The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Wayne Savage

Everybody clicked from day one which has helped with the rehearsal process, which Jo tells me has been the most densely collaborative theatre in the forest production to date.

Well ahead time-wise, they’re now refining scenes and playing with others. A hilarious little dance solo has just been added.

“You have an idea and go with it, no-one feels silly. We’ve tried some outrageous things and they’re in the show now which has been nice,” says Emma.

Ryan, who was also in the company’s run of Treasure Island, says having that safe space to try anything eases an actor’s insecurities.

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed

“You come in with things you’re not sure about… singing in front of people for me is very exposing. I was thinking of playing Audrey cross-eyed, Irish; I tried so many things...”

The company is doing adds Jack, who’s also heavily involved in the look of the show, exactly what Shakespeare would be doing if he were alive today.

“The ideas, the inspiration and the drive for what we’re doing here is what excites me most; how interesting and different we’re doing it. I feel like this is the right way to do it.”

That all in it together spirit, he says, extends to the design; which includes a stunning cottage that looks likes it’s been in the woods forever.

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed

“I had lot of ideas that I’d already gone through in my head before rehearsals started and then had to forget all of them... from now on in everyone’s going ‘actually, it’s going to work much better if it’s like this’. It’s a fantastic collaborative experience.”

By the time you read this, rehearsals will have moved to Jimmy’s Farm which is when Fizz thinks it’ll really come alive. “I’m really excited to start utilising the environment; it’ll be phenomenal in terms of taking it to another level.”

For Darren, playing Touchstone among others, it’s all about the sixth cast member of the show – the audience.

“He’s this Victorian compere, entertainer, so the crucial part for that is to have the audience in front of me just to see how they react to certain lines and little games and tricks that I’m playing in between the action.”

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Wayne Savage The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Wayne Savage

Starting in the court, the story ventures outdoors; making it a brilliant fit for the woods.

As You Like It follows Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle’s court, accompanied by her cousin Celia to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden. This being Red Rose Chain, things aren’t that simple.

“I just said to Darren ‘why don’t you try that like a cowboy’, the rest is history,” laughs Jo about reimagining the tale as Victorians venturing into the Wild West, which everybody’s very excited about.

“It’s actually an amazing rom-com and the story is really engaging; you really want these different people to get together.”

The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed The cast of As You Like It, Red Rose Chain's theatre in the forest production for 2017. Photo: Contributed

The text has undergone a cut to make it the right length; which Jo thinks has benefitted the piece hugely. Outdated topical references are removed and she knows exactly how many words she needs to have enough space for music to break it up so it’s not a complete bombardment of words from start to finish.

Then it’s just making sure you keep everything needed to advance the story and which will serve as a vehicle for comedy and action. She also has to think about how she’s going to double it as well.

“It’s quite useful to have cast it before I cut it because then I know who’s playing which character to make sure that they’re not onstage with themselves,” she laughs.

“I hear a lot of young kids say ‘oh Shakespeare, boring’. The one thing no one can say about this is it is boring. We’ve got fighting, chasing round the stage like a cartoon, for adults there’s the rom-com element,” says Emma.

Multiple storylines abound with crazy puppets that come out of nowhere, there’s dancing; singing.

Ryan describes it as ticking every little boy’s wish list, getting to wrestle, box; swordfight, fall in love...

“A big thing about As You Like It is the wrestling match and I think we have done quite well,” Jack adds to raucous laughter. “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

• As You Like runs at Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead, July 26-August 27.

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When foreign language plays are translated for the stage they usually end up as starchy period pieces with cut-glass accents. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to writer Blake Morrison about making the classics much more egalitarian.

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