Written by John O’Keeffe, directed by Mark Rosenblatt and designed by Ben Stones, this first production in the newly refurbished main house of Bristol Old Vic theatre was a piece of history and I feel so happy to have witnessed it. Not just because of the cultural significance of having the main house back after over a year of it being closed. But also because it was an excellent show, with strong performances from all involved, an interesting concept and highly original staging.
The play is largely based on a Shakespearean formula, of mixed up identities, romance and reunions all ending with a marriage. Even in the play O’Keeffe has his actors attempt to put on As You LIke It, and one of the main characters, Jack Rover, an actor is clearly a huge fan of the Bard.
The play was written in the 1700’s, which is when the theatre was originally opened, and was modernised to the 1940’s which is when the theatre was re-opened under the name Bristol Old Vic. Cleverly using the history of the theatre to inform how the play was designed.
The staging was also very clearly thought through, and rather than using complete sets – which a modern audience really does not need, there were chosen parts. Such as door frames to show rooms, and sparse furniture. This gave a huge amount of flexibility, which was put to good use, and also left the beautiful construction of the back stage visible. The stage hands who maneuvered the pieces of set in to place also provided all sound effects, at one point in the performance there is a moment where Rover is walking through a thunder storm and being sprayed in the face with water to denote rain.
There were a few moments where I lost sight of where the play was going, and then very quickly caught up and could see the ending up ahead before we got there. Perhaps suggesting that some editing could have been done, and the play was quite lengthy. However I laughed, and sitting in the very comfortable seats, enjoyed how all of the elements came together to create something that felt new but still traditional. As the first thing to be put on by the Bristol Old Vic in 2012, in my humble opinion it was the right choice and I am excited to see more. http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/wildoats.html