This Arden is a place where even the melancholy Jacques spreads pleasure, where the usurped, banished Duke and his courtiers live happy, simple lives and where a well-placed goat sound effect can be comedy gold.
For love reigns in this mystical forest and multiplies through the cast and into the audience. At its beating, romantic heart, the banished Rosalind, disguised as the male Ganymede (Naomi Frederick, with more than a hint of the panto principal boy about her in leather breeches) convinces Orlando to practice his wooing on her, playing up the preconceptions of wifedom.
But love, it seems, is more infectious than swine flu and soon everyone is at it, in partnerships that are by degrees less and less believable.
But what does believability matter? We are in an English-seeming forest in which a lioness lies in wait. What little plausible plot Shakespeare gives us matters only because director Thea Sharrock and her cast make us care so much about his characters.
Jack Laskey’s mop-haired, roguish Orlando – who at times seems to suspect Rosalind’s façade – wins hearts with his romantic naivety, Laura Rogers’s Celia is innocently playful and Tim McMullan has more fun wallowing in Jacques’s melancholy – lingering nasally on each consonant – than should be legal.
Dominic Rowan, taking on fool duty as Touchstone, brings a real delight to playing with the audience. I am still not sure if convincing everyone to shout “Where’s my goat?” is just a touch too panto, but it made me laugh.
It is, after all, a comedy; that is what it should do… and it did, just as I like it.