As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Running Time – 2 hours 55 minutes – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – 13 February 2020
The Fourth Wall in a theatre – that invisible barrier between the players and the audience at the front of the stage – conventionally doesn’t get ‘broken’ by direct interaction between performers and those watching. In Shakespeare’s era, the convention did not occur. The audience was included in the action, fulfilled roles on stage and sometimes were to be found sitting on the stage watching. There was no formality, it was a fluid arrangement. Thus, following the opening scenes of Kimberley Sykes production of ‘As You Like It’, set in Duke Frederick’s court, we are whisked away into the Forest of Arden – and the full auditorium lights are turned on and, more or less, stay that way for the rest of the production; “All the World’s A Stage”.
So, audience members are brought into the action; actors sit in the auditorium and one gets a piece of chocolate from a punter and eats it at the side of the stage. It’s fun, endearing in a way and rather charming. Thankfully, these devices are not overdone, avoiding any tags of self-indulgence and gimmickry.
As we enter the Forest, the circular greensward gives way to a huge sun of slatted wood; surrounded by stage detritus – we are firmly in a theatre – those who appeared in the court change costumes in full view of the audience – nothing happens out of their view.
The play is full of some beautiful verse which, by and large is delivered with care and attention to its detail. In Lucy Phelps we have a feisty Rosalind – her physicality is almost overdone – she barely pauses, especially as her alterego Ganymede. Anthony Byrne doubles the Dukes – the thuggish and the welcoming and kindly. Sandy Grierson has huge fun as Riff-Raffesque Touchstone; all glam rocked-up. Sophie Khan Levy offers a fun Celia and David Ajao a likeable Orlando. A gender-swapped Jacques in the hands of Sophie Stanton is less successful – the character is known to be melancholy, this seemed to me rather more bored. Tiny parts were delights, not least Richard Clews’ Adam which was so touching.
As the first half of the evening whizzed by, so the second half laboured a little and the audience became twitchy – the introduction of the Phoebe/Sylvia (Silvius in the original and a male character) seems a plot too much for the slight story.
There is much to praise in this production and the clarity of the spoken verse was joyful – I refer to my Reviewsgate colleague, Rod Dungate, who reviewed the original outing at Stratford and felt the delivery could have been improved; I think it may well have done.
Maybe the extra business added to the length of the production which slightly worked against it, but it was never less than interesting to watch and listen to. I might also add that the live music is jaunty and fun and there is some beautiful singing along with it.
Fun, fascinating – maybe just lacking the pace to keep attention throughout.
DUKE FREDERICK/DUKE SENIOR – ANTHONY BYRNE
TOUCHSTONE – SANDY GRIERSON
ROSALIND – LUCY PHELPS
WILLIAM – TOM DAWZE
CHARLES – GRAEME BROOKES
ORLANDO – DAVID AJAO
CELIA – SOPHIE KHAN LEVY
AMIENS/LE BEAU – EMILY JOHNSTONE
OLIVER – LEO WAN
JACQUES DE BOIS/DENNIS – AARON THIARA
ADAM – RICHARD CLEWS
JACQUES – SOPHIE STANTON
CORIN – PATRICK BRENNAN
PHOEBE – LAURA ELSWORTHY
SILVIA – AMELIA DONKOR
AUDREY – CHARLOTTE ARROWSMITH
MARTEXT – KARINA JONES
DIRECTOR – KIMBERLEY SYKES
DESIGNER – STEPHEN BRIMSON LEWIS
COSTUME & LIGHTING DESIGN – BRETTA GERECKE
COMPOSER – TIM SUTTON