Shakespeare fans converged on Chawton House armed with fold-up chairs and bulging picnic baskets for the annual visit of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men who are touring delightfully funny and bizarre comedy As You Like It.
The company, founded in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, was the one for which Shakespeare wrote most of his plays – and he even played some minor roles.
Today the all-male troupe – in line with the Elizabethan era, when women were not allowed to tread the boards – is under the direction of Peter Stickney.
These seven fit and talented young men take on 20 roles, changing character and gender in double-quick time as they rush up and down wooden steps on and off the stage and negotiate the minimal steep rocky outcrop set.
As soon as the play concludes they rapidly dismantle set and stage to travel to their next venue.
As You Like It can be summarised as a frolic in the forest where most of the leading characters have been exiled or fled after suffering the injustice of cruel relatives.
Duke Senior and his followers are forced into exile by his usurping brother Frederick. His daughter Rosalind stays at court as companion to her devoted cousin Celia, daughter of the usurper, but soon she is also banished – though not before she and Orlando fall in love.
Orlando is the youngest son of a nobleman being maltreated by his elder brother. When their eyes first lock he is engaged in a wrestling match organised by his brother which should see him dead, not the victor.
He flees to the forest where he posts love poems on trees to Rosalind who, disguised as a man named Ganymede, has set up home in the forest with Cecilia and court jester Touchstone.
Add local yokels and a lot of unrequited passion and you have a play full of confused fun and games.
All seven players meld well into their various roles and with each other. With music and song essential it is to their credit they can hold a tune.
Benn Lynn deserves a special mention for his handling of the male/female character Rosalind on his professional debut.
Court jester Will Beynon is a natural comedian, especially up against large and lusty shepherdess Phebe played by Lawrence Haynes, who also plays Jaques to deliver philosophical speech ‘The Seven Ages of Man’.
As with all good comedies, all is well that ends well when everyone gets their man or woman and the antagonists repent of their sins. And so another evening with The Lord Chamberlain’s Men drew to a close and we went home hoping they would return next year.