“If I drop off in the middle, could you just elbow me?” says the woman to my right.
I laugh, “Of course.”
“Shakespeare was ruined at school for me,” she says, “I’ve only come because I read a review that said there was a spectacular Scene Change in this thing.”
The review she read was right, and that particular spectacular Scene Change is the highlight. The show begins in an office, and after some wrestling and typing and plot, we move to the woodland. The chairs and tables of the office all scrape down the stage, slowly and screeching, and they rise up towards the rig, left to dangle in a chaotic jumble. Lights glimmer in the cracks left between table legs and chairs, and people sit and swing from the tangle as quiet observers. Occasionally, neon lights flick on amidst this makeshift forest, like little disco leaves, and post-it notes become wood carvings. During the Scene Change – the spectacular one – the woman to the right catches my eye and we smile, as if to say ‘Good one.’
About ten minutes after the Scene Change, the woman beside me falls asleep. I give her a nudge after a while, but she falls asleep again not long after and so I let her gently snooze. I watch on, hoping for another big set-movement extravaganza, but it never comes.
“Are you enjoying it?” Asks the woman, stirred awake by the arrival of a welcome interval.
“I think so,” I say, “I think it might be quite lovely. Although I’m not completely sure I know what’s going on.”
“No, me neither. Of course I slept through some of it. I’m partially deaf, so they sent me a synopsis. Would you like to borrow it?” She hands me a crisp white sheet of paper, and, lo and behold: the plot.
I understand the second half much more clearly, partly because I know now what everything is leading up to, and so I do enjoy it more. I am at the captioned performance, too, which helps – without it I doubt I would’ve known which was Adam and which was Audrey.
I find it quite difficult to get on with Shakespeare, and I can see why the woman beside me falls asleep once that scene change is all sorted. The language is, I am sure, pure beautiful, but it is also a huge barrier to know what exactly is happening. I can work it out roughly, know who is chasing who and that Rosalind is being a bloke now, but I can’t get each word and every meaning and so the beauty is lost on me, meaning that watching a Shakespeare feels about as emotionally stirring as reading the synopsis during the interval.
There are lovely moments: actors crawling around in soft knitwear mimicking sheep and songs that make it seem like Verity Standen is in the room, and of course That Scene Change. But it feels like this is theatre I am *supposed* to like, rather than being something meant to fire me up. I am supposed to see the historical weight of this writer and know it is good, regardless of what I see. But if someone wrote this plot now, and if no one knew Shakespeare, it would be panned, right? There’s nothing wrong with a bit of silliness, but where is the relevance in a show that ends with a four-way wedding or treats cross-dressing as some sort of funny way to win a lover? Or has what I think might be some casual just-for-comedy slut shaming?
“I liked the songs,” says the woman, “and that scene change was brilliant!”
“It really was,” I agree, before we both head our separate ways.
Leaving the show I have flashes of moments of pure beauty, and I run over That Scene Change in my head, again and again in slow mo, because it really was just so beautiful. In that scene change I think I have found what I am supposed to find in Shakespeare’s scripts – something to leave you in awe – and for me, and for As You Like It, I suppose that will be enough. There’s not much I will dwell on, not much to shout about or think about for a long time, and no words I’ll always remember, but a flash – a moment – of something brilliant.