Review: As You Like It. RSC (touring) Nottingham Theatre Royal.

It is a joy to see a repertory company like the RSC producing a series of plays over a few days, as it provides the opportunity to watch the same actors perform in vastly different roles, some virtually unrecognisable. As You Like It provides a great comic foil to the darkness of Measure for Measure, and stylistically, Director Kimberley Sykes takes an entirely different approach.

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The plot of As You Like It is not of great importance. Suffice to say our heroine Rosalind follows her banished father to the idyllic Forest of Arden, disguises herself as a man, and is then pursued by her optimistic would-be lover Orlando. Rather, Shakespeare concentrates on using one of his favourite tools – deception and disguise – to draw out commentary about how people relate to each other, and to highlight how influenced society is by ‘norms’. The courtiers who remove themselves to the country find a slower pace of life, where regard for one another becomes paramount. Rosalind, as Ganymede, finds her disguise as a man gives her the opportunity to speak truthfully to Orlando, even though she is actually deceiving him.

Director Kimberley Sykes has cranked up the humorous content to maximum and uses every device to hand. There is panto-like call and response with the audience to heighten the humour of Orlando’s increasingly mawkish rhyming couplets declaring his love for Rosalind. There is audience participation, something modern audiences can be uncomfortable with, but which would have been an intrinsic part of performance in Shakespeare’s day. The actors freely tip the wink to the audience in a knowing way. There is slapstick, physical jeopardy, and even some larger-than-life puppetry at the end. As Jacques so memorably says: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”

Despite this being a comedy, it is the strength of performance from individuals which really stands out. Sandy Grierson in particular is a revelation, changing from constrained, cold-blooded Angelo in Measure for Measure to an athletic, charismatic and acerbic Touchstone, complete with glam-rock tartan trousers and fur coat. Likewise, Lucy Phelps, who played the contained Isabella, transforms into an energetic Rosalind/Ganymede, fizzing with physical energy and expression, relishing her comedic lines and every sigh and nervous butterfly produced by her loving longing. The blind love of Silvia for Phoebe is further fodder for comedy – the ‘chavvy’ Phoebe, with her inch-thick black eyebrows and cantilevered chest – a striking contrast to the ‘natural’ Silvia. Leo Wan, playing Orlando’s manipulative older brother Oliver, gives an almost cartoon like performance at the start, so malleable is his face, but also becomes considerate lover on entering the Forest and falling for Celia.

Costume and Lighting designer Bretta Gerecke has clearly had great fun designing this show, a mixture of costumes in varying styles and from different time periods. It gives the show a sort of dream-like unreality which fits well with it’s fantastical setting in the Forest. This production is a toy-box bursting full of bright objects, and exuberant performances, that allow us to let loose our childish imaginations and run away to the Forest with the performing troupe. And who doesn’t dream about that?

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Do you travel by public transport and come across annoying fellow travellers? Then check out Phil Lowe’s hilarious new book! below. Recommended age 16+

 

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