Tuesday, 7 March 2006

As You Like It - RSC 2006

As You Like It
The Royal Shakespeare Company, at The Novello Theatre, London, UK.

This is an extremely atmospheric production of As You Like It, with the action set beneath the imposing form of a solitary and towering greenwood tree. Snow falls as the play opens, and the actors, wrapping themselves warmly in fur coats, sing to the audience.

Cousins Rosalind and Celia are central to the plot and must be believable in their affection for one another. In this production, boyish Rosalind (Lia Williams) and prim Celia (Amanda Harris) strike just the right balance of friendship and loyalty. Freed from the restrictive ball-gowns of the court, Rosalind revels in the freedom she attains as a boy: dashing about, swinging from trees, and lying on the floor in most unladylike positions. She uses her status as a man to attain freedom as a woman. Celia however, even in her mean attire, remains strait-laced and rather prim. Constantly pushing her glasses up along her nose, she is content merely to offer up words of wisdom. The dynamics of this relationship are extremely interesting. At the start it is obvious that Celia is the driving force. However, once the action moves to the forest it is Rosalind, using the power that playing a man endows her with, who takes control of the action. In this production though, we get the feeling that this is only because the stronger-hearted Celia stands back and allows her to have her fun with Orlando. Orlando himself (played by Barnaby Kay) is a rather cheerful lover. He happily engages in Ganymede’s sly game, indulging the youth in a rather gentle and affectionate way, and reacting kindly to his rather odd behaviour.

An aspect of this production that I found interesting was the decision to have both Dukes played by the same actor (Jonathan Newth). What shone through in this was the authority of both characters, differing only in the way they expressed themselves: one through anger, the other through benevolence.

The Duke’s attendant, Jaques (Joseph Mydell) is presented as something of a dandy. We cannot help but laugh good-naturedly at his stretched syllables and affected melancholy. At the other end of the comedy scale we have Touchstone (played by Paul Chahidi). With his shrewd humour and energetic speech he draws a different kind of laughter from the audience. There is moment where the audience even laughs at him wiping something rather unsavoury off his shoe and threatening them with it.

Even the minor characters in this play are all wonderfully alive. Grimy black-toothed Audrey (Meg Fraser) with her joyous squawking was actually rather winsome; and scorned Phebe (played by the delightful Caitlin Mottram) goes through a whole range of emotions and wonderful facial expressions before finally accepting that she cannot have Ganymede.

As the play moves from season to season, the audience are made to appreciate the change in weather. From snow and fur coats, and a cooking pot on a brazier drifting the smell of soup throughout the theatre, we move to rolled up trousers, straw hats and dappled sunshine falling brightly on the forest floor. We move from melancholy songs of winter and rough weather (sung by the sweet-voiced Gurpreet Singh as Amiens) to jolly songs of lovers and spring.

As You Like It is a play where ultimately there is ‘good in everything’ and resolution is found for all. In this production (directed by Dominic Cooke) we find true sanctuary in the Forest of Arden. There is absolutely nothing here not to like. 

This review was originally published on The Shakespeare Revue

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