As You Like It

It begins…

Imagine this. It’s 7.25pm on the 26th September 1921. You are in your home city. To be precise you are in a building, off a courtyard, down an alley, by an old church in the heart of historic Norwich. Just six months ago you would not have expected to be standing in this building. It had been a disused grocery warehouse. An unlikely location to perform in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. For that is what you are about to do. You are an amateur actor, but not just any. You are a Norwich Player, which means you have your own theatre, and the half has just been called (which being an experienced actor you know means ‘half an hour’ before a performance. Except for reasons no one can quite remember is actually thirty-five minutes).

Earlier in the year you were standing in this very same building with your fellow players being addressed by your group’s director, the impresario Walter Nugent Monck. He is a young man with enviable vision and energy. On this occasion however he was disconsolate. This dusty dishevelled place just would not do. The search for a permanent home for The Norwich Players would surely have to continue. Yet as he spoke his voice rang out. You noticed it. Your fellow players noticed it. Monck noticed it. He was disconsolate no longer.

Dishevelled and unprepossessing it might be but this building hadn’t always been so. Once it had been a Roman Catholic Chapel erected in 1794 and still going strong in the late 1800’s until the draw of the completed Cathedral of St John the Baptist in 1910 had seen the Catholic congregation migrate across the city towards the Unthank Road. The worshippers went, but the high barrelled ceiling remained. And so did the buildings exceptional acoustics.

This is what had made Monck’s voice so rich and true. This is what, with your support and gratitude, drove Monck to raise the funds to purchase the building for £1700 and to spend roughly the same again in converting it into a theatre. And as you complete your makeup and shake off those last nerves, this is what you are hoping will, on this day, the 26th September 1921, carry you through that speech; the one that every knows and that you’ve learnt to love and fear in equal measure…


”All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players…”

As You Like It was the production that opened The Maddermarket Theatre, and above is the programme that the theatre’s eager new audiences would have received. It reveals some fascinating details about the way theatre was presented and the expectations of the audience. We asked Emily Youngs, the theatre’s current Marketing Coordinator to see what she makes of the programme and how it differs from today’s equivalent, see below.


Productions through the ages

As You Like It has been staged once a decade at the theatre, significantly more than any other Shakespeare. Looking at pictures of the productions offers a fascinating insight into changing trends in theatre-making as well as the evolving architecture of the Maddermarket stage. In this video, our current Artistic Director looks at productions from 1921, 1952, & 1987 drawing on his experience of directing and designing at the theatre, and introducing an actor from one of the photographs.


The summer of love

The Maddermarket’s most recent production of As You Like It was a bold departure from what had gone before. Directed by Chris Bealey, it was set during the 1967 summer of love, and as you can see from this photo, the Forest of Arden became a hippy commune, where it wasn’t surprising everyone was keen to hang out.

Chris’ production wasn’t detached from the heritage of previous Maddermarket’s staging’s however. 2014 was the 250th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and conscious of the Maddermarket’s importance within 20th Century Shakespearean revival, Chris and his cast was keen to frame the production accordingly.

Drawing on source material as well as creating new text, the production opened with The Norwich Players crest being held aloft by the cast, who as themselves, told the story of the theatre and it’s Shakespearean heritage. Much like a traditional masque, this framing device opened the evening with a celebration of performance before inviting the audience into the world of the play itself.

The production received notable attention and here you can hear interviews with Chris and extracts of the production in a BBC TV piece made at the time.

Photography credit:

2014 Shelley Burroughs, 1987-2014 Peter King, 1971 Paston Association, 1921 & 1963 George Gregory, 1945 Hallam Ashley, 2019 Sean Owen Reflective Arts Photography

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