As You Like It, by William Shakespeare
Runs: 3h 0m: one interval: till 5 March
Terrific acting. But flawed
There are two major features of this As You Like It. One of which might not be as you like it; the other almost certainly will be. For some tastes, including this reviewer’s, there’s far too much audience participation. But on the positive side, acting standards are extremely high, in some cases extraordinarily so.
The pantomimic elements of the show might be “inclusive”, but they are also intrusive, enough to spoil the evening. It’s nice to have Touchstone and others occasionally coming into the stalls, but individuals from the audience trooping up on stage to mangle the poems on trees episode into extinction – no thanks.
Acting across the board – this is the RSC after all – is first-rate; in Lucy Phelps’s (Rosalind) case outstanding in all respects. She’s animated throughout the evening. Even in a touching delivery of the famous epilogue, she mixes walking about with semi reclining at the very edge of the stage, relating to every individual in the audience in an engaging, intimate register.
Sandy Grierson (Touchstone), lumbered with that virtually incomprehensible dialogue, simultaneously demonstrates the physical agility of an athlete or circus acrobat. Given the Third Reich-type uniforms near the start it might not be coincidental, but Leo Wan’s Oliver is a visual dead ringer for Josef Goebbels circa 1932: and he has the evil, the cringing, sniveling envy and cruelty to go with it. As Adam, Richard Clews is genuinely moving; he has a fine singing voice as well.
Besides the pantomime overload there are some other serious flaws in the production. Making the melancholy Jacques a woman isn’t just confusing; she’s not especially melancholy. What’s more, Shakespeare’s proto-feminist intentions aren’t furthered by turning Sylvius into Silvia so that her love for Phoebe becomes a same-sex affair. Away from that, it’s an inexplicable blunder to have Orlando on the sidelines watching Charles wrestle with brother Jacques in place of Orlando himself. It makes nonsense of the whole episode.
On a positive note, songs and live music are beautifully done.
So, director Kimberley Sykes has come up with a mixed bag.
Rosalind: Lucy Phelps
Duke Senior/Duke Frederick: Antony Byrne
Celia: Sophie Khan Levy
Touchstone: Sandy Grierson
Amiens/Le Beau: Emily Johnstone
Charles/Lord: Graeme Brookes
Oliver: Leo Wan
Jacques De Bois/Dennis: Aaron Thiara
Orlando: David Ajao
Adam: Richard Clews
Jacques: Sophie Stanton
Corin: Patrick Brennan
Phoebe: Laura Elsworthy
Silvia: Amelia Donkor
Audrey: Charlotte Arrowsmith
William: Tom Dawz
Martext: Karina Jones
Lord: Alex Jones
Director: Gregory Doran
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting Designer: Simon Spencer
Composer: Paul Englishby
Sound Designer: Steven Atkinson
Movement Director: Lucy Cullingford
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams/Ruth Cooper-Brown