There’s a lot to like about Shakespeare at St Albans’ Roman Theatre

As You Like It

As You Like It - Credit: Archant

St Albans has staged numerous open-air Shakespeare performances over the years - unsurprising as there are so many perfect locations for such a purpose.

As You Like It

As You Like It - Credit: Archant

But there has never been one like OVO’s As You Like It, performed AT the Roman Theatre of Verulamium, which has to be the standout performance of them all.

This was such a slick, clever and accomplished production that it would not have disgraced the professional stage.

OVO, which fittingly was putting on its own play as part of the St Albans Shakespeare Festival which it organised, set As You Like It in the swinging sixties and the summer of love.

It combined Shakespeare’s words with sixties music played by a live band, wittily called The Whom.

Many of the performers had to sing - and very good they were as well - with the songs of the sixties seamlessly slotting into Shakespeare’s words in place of those written at the time. How much more apt was music from the likes of the Mamas and the Papas, Sonny and Cher and Van Morrison in this context.

The Roman theatre was used to full advantage with little in the way of props other than a striking psychedelic campervan ‘parked’ in the Forest of Arden.

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It was all credit to director Adam Nichols and his very accomplished cast that they did not need anything more in the way of props than those they had. What they had in spades was enthusiasm and a conspicuous and addictive enjoyment in what they were doing.

Adam and his production team could not have asked for a more talented cast. From the principals through to the more minor roles, they were uniformly excellent.

Faith Turner as Rosalind and Ed White as Orlando showed the way with their polished performances and singing voices while Lucy Crick as Celia brought out her inner Barbara Windsor to make the character appealing and fun.

Dan Warren was a marvellous Touchstone - a Shakespearean ‘comic’ character not always loved by the critics. His intonation and timing were first rate and his courtship of Helen Miller’s comely Audrey was a hoot.

There was plenty more comedy from Stephanie Jones as country girl Phoebe and her thankless suitor Silvius, played by Rob Ferguson, Kieran Cummins as Corin and Chris Baker as the wrestler Charles. Paul de Burton pulled out all the stops as Orlando’s decrepid butler Adam.

Everyone who took part deserved the enthusiastic applause at the end - and will doubtless enjoy the same when OVO performs As You Like It at Minack Open Air Theatre in Cornwall next week.

The only slight reservation I had was that late May might still have been a bit cold for an outdoor play - to say there was a chill in the air was an understatement. But it is to OVO’s credit that despite audience members wrapped in blankets and thick coats, it was still possible to believe this was the summer of love.