When director Daryl Cloran started digging into Shakespeare’s As You Like It for Bard on the Beach, a certain Beatles hit kept popping into his head.
“It’s one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays,” the artistic director of Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, who also helmed Bard’s hit production of Love’s Labour’s Lost in 2015, begins from his Alberta base. “It’s often called a lyric poem and it has a lot of songs anyway. So I started to think about what music fit it. And the more I read it, the play is about love: there’s romantic love between Orlando and Rosalind, but also love of father and daughter, and love of the old servant, Adam.
“There are so many versions of love in this play,” he adds. “And that made me think of ‘All You Need Is Love’ by the Beatles.”
That song has worked its way into Cloran’s new, 1960s-set rendition of the pastoral comedy, and so have 24 other Beatles hits—with fashions to match and an on-stage band with guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards.
“Ultimately, I started cutting about half of Shakespeare’s text and asking, ‘Can it be done through song?’ ” he explains. “It’s been really effective and the songs really lift the scenes and continue the actions of the story.”
The era lent itself well to a setting in Kitsilano, which was ground zero for the hippie heyday of the 1960s. In Cloran’s new version, instead of escaping to the original’s Forest of Arden, the disguised Celia and Rosalind flee with the court fool, Touchstone, to the Okanagan. “That was a part of a lot of people’s journeys in the ’60s, going back to the land there,” Cloran says.
The decade and its West Coast setting also handily solved one of the play’s biggest challenges: its wrestling scene—specifically, Orlando rumbling with Charles during Act 1. “All Star Wrestling was a huge deal in Vancouver in the ’60s,” Cloran enthuses. “I stumbled upon the fact that Vancouver was a big stop on the international circuit at that time.”
Cloran and his team have so embraced the sport, in fact, that the production will now feature a ringside wrestling preshow, with the help of actor Austin Eckert, who’s reportedly jumped headfirst into his role as the play’s Charles the Wrestler, and fight choreographer Jonathan Hawley Purvis.
“You’d think these people are professional wrestlers,” proclaims Cloran. “This is definitely one of those shows where you get to see how virtuosic people are.”
For Cloran, it’s fun playing with Shakespeare’s work and giving it a new spin. “I’m a big believer that if we’re going to tell a story that’s been around for a long time, we need to ask ‘What is going to speak to contemporary times?’ For me, it’s the love story and the philosophy shift throughout the play, where we start to open up to our relationships to each other—how ultimately all you need is love. And for me, the best way to approach that was through song.” That, and a few half nelsons and flying mares.
Bard on the Beach presents As You Like It at the BMO Mainstage until September 22.