Review: Pendley’s As You Like It reaches across the generations

Pendley Shakespeare Festival first-timer Victoria Bull is blown away by the Bard’s annual open-air outing in Tring:

I’ve always been batty about the Bard, but finding fellow fans of Shakespeare in my age group has never been easy.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

But stepping across the threshold of Pendley’s annual Shakespeare festival for the first time, I soon realised that I’m far from rare in my appreciation the Swan of Avon.

Colleague Becca Choules, and I spied from our comfy picnic blanket, laid out in the last square of sun still shining over the Grade II listed Pendley Manor and its picturesque grounds, people of all ages, all excited about the performance of As You Like It that was awaiting them.

This wasn’t anything like an exclusive club for the highbrow culture vulture, it was a vibrant and fun atmosphere in which a highly sophisticated, yet still somehow rustic and simple, work of theatre was about to take place.

As soon as the play started, there was an explosion of colour and song that wasn’t unlike something you would see on a West End stage or an episode of Glee.

My first thought was whether director Gemma Colclough had designed a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, which was traditionally so focused on the simple pleasures of folk life and music that the banished Duke Senior immerses himself in, as he sets up an alternative society in the Forest of Arden.

But it soon became clear that this particular interpretation was set in the 1960s, and the idyllic forest lifestyle of characters in the play was paralleled with the ‘free love’ ethos of that era.

It was so easy to slip into the flow of the story, which is rather complicated given the four sets of lovers and the gender-swap convention so often used by Shakespeare.

All the comedy was easily accessible. From children to grandparents, from scholars to Shakespeare first-timers, everyone belly-laughed throughout the two hour show.

My first experience of the festival – now in its 64th year – was a magical one, and I feel privileged to have witnessed such talent, both from the actors on stage and the artistic vision of those behind the scenes. It is mind-boggling to think both plays of the festival are rehearsed together in just 10 days.

As I write, I am eagerly awaiting next week’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, and whichever plays are staged next year, and the year after.

I’m even more excited due to first-time producer William Edwards’ news that next year will usher in a new era for the festival, as it will relaunch as an educational extension of drama school and university.

Graduates will be welcome to come and put all their training into practice, and ensure that there’s there is plenty more the event can offer to all, whether they have a lifelong interest in Shakespeare or not.

Visit pendleyshakespearefestival.co.uk for information and tickets, or call the box office on 01442 820060, open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 3pm to 6pm.