Review: Lawyer Show 2011: As You Like It (Nightwood Theatre)

When one first hears the idea of a group of lawyers playing Shakespeare, “fun” and “lighthearted” are not necessarily the images that jump to mind first. However, Nightwood Theatre’s annual Lawyer Show: As You Like It is a pleasant surprise.

The theatre itself is cozy, with exposed brick walls and comfortable seating, located on quiet Berkeley Street. The only drawback was the tiny three-stall washroom that actually delayed the beginning of the play for five or ten minutes with overwhelmingly long line-ups.

The first clear sign that this was seriously going to surpass expectations was the personality the cast brought to the show. This really brought their characters to life. My friend was impressed by the level of commitment and investment into the play from people who weren’t professional actors. The level of professionalism is also pretty impressive.

Rather than pretend they were actors by trade, they embraced their professional identity, by strutting up and down the stage in suits and sunglasses (the people of the forest wore tattered suits), and peppering the show with lawyer jokes (finding sly ways to bend the original Shakespearean text and give it a legal twist).

A large part of the audience looked like they might be part of the legal community, and there were certainly a number of inside jokes that seemed to get a lot of laughs in the theatre, but you didn’t necessarily need to be a lawyer to enjoy the show. The best thing about it, at least one of many competing best things, is the fact that they did not at all take themselves seriously.

The set was relatively simple, at any given point composed of two benches or a bunch of fake rocks. A photo screen backdrop changed to provide a little bit of added effect to each scene. It wasn’t an overly hi-tech set, but it really didn’t need to be. The actors really propelled the show forward.

Familiar peppy and upbeat tunes were re-done to Shakespearean lyrics. They sang, they danced, and more importantly than anything else: they had fun. When they had fun, we had fun. Hits by The Mamas and The Papas, The Black-Eyed Peas, and Queen, among others, made appearances.

My favourite part of the performance was the fight scene – which was re-worked as a more digital-age competition, with the entire “fight” staged as a video game standoff, all with the gusto of a real fight.

The best part of The Lawyer Show? They could have done straight edged rendition, went through the motions and put on an average performance to raise money for Nightwood. But instead they took it and truly made it their own. Combined with the artistic vision of directors Kelly Straughan and Kelly Thornton, the completed effort was far from amateur and well worth the ticket price. My only complaint? That the show doesn’t run for longer.

As You Like It played from June 9 to June 11 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. (26 Berkeley Street)

Photo Credit to Hilary Green; (from left to right) Erin Dann (Rosalind), Caroline Ursalak (Duchess Frieda), Peter Johnson (First Lord of Frieda/Chorus), Ashley Waye (Celia), Peter Hamiwka (Second Lord of Frieda/Chorus)

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