As You Like It

by William Shakespeare / 2014, Webber Douglas Studio, Central / Directed by Ben Naylor with Anna Healey / Set and costume design by Nadege Adlam / Lighting by Ed McKay / Music and sound by Paul Sartin and Luke Pajak / Fight direction by Rachel Bown-Williams

This in-the-round production of Shakespeare’s comedy was a blast to make – perhaps the most playful process I’ve designed. We used an eclectic setting: the Court scenes drew inspiration from Fight Club (complete with the obligatory slo-mo punch, a beautiful piece of ensemble technical and creative work); and with Arden harking back to an age of innocence through Edwardian costumes (perhaps the last historical period we can associate with a prelapsarian state).

The rehearsal process was driven by extensive improvisation and animal work. The actors played a variety of flora and fauna – trees, deer, sheep and a dog – as well as their primary roles; and in keeping with the play’s dizzying bending of gender, in Arden characters were played by actors of the opposite sex.

The production used Biblical imagery – of the apple and the serpent in Eden – to elucidate subtly the play’s allegorical elements, sculpted by dream-like and elegiac lighting. A hard-edged digital rave-core music/soundscape in Court gave way to traditional folk performed live and acoustically in Arden, with a disco-twist at the end. What else for a play that’s primarily designed to make the audience feel good when they leave the theatre?

Photography by Patrick Baldwin