As You Like It

Reviewer's Rating

In William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the Forest of Arden offers an escape from stiff courtly life into enchanting chaos. It is a fascinating place where fascinating things happen: the miracle of love, the exploration of identity, and the reimagining of traditional gender roles. It is a place that can be seen simultaneously as jovial and pastoral or menacing and violent, and it is into this latter interpretation of the forest that Kleczewska invites spectators to immerse themselves.

The acclaimed Polish director envisages the Shakespearean world as a rather off-putting place inhabited by characters who represent the whole spectrum of personalities and attitudes. One can find there, among others, a repelling sugar daddy (Duke Senior portrayed by Jacek Mąka) who places the satisfaction of his desires over the happiness of his daughter, a coarse chav (Oliver played by Wojciech Niemczyk) who verbally abuses his brother, and an emotionless robotic beauty (Phebe by Magdalena Grąziowska). These three, just like all other individuals whom the actors of Żeromski Theatre in Kielce bring to life with their highly physical acting, are much darker versions of their Shakespearean counterparts.

The transformation they undergo is indeed surprising and radical, especially compared with what the analogous traditional characters go through. In the end, though, it all fails to produce much intense emotion in the spectators. Intriguing at first, their incongruity with accepted norms and the desperate struggle to find their true selves soon becomes tiresome. Such is the case, for instance, in the concluding sequence in which each actor is assigned a wrestler in a matching outfit whom they have to fight. The scene itself is an invaluable part of the whole as it makes the performance coherent and clearly puts the emphasis on the theme of identity. Nevertheless, I could not help but feel increasingly weary as the characters continued to leave and re-enter the stage to exchange blows with their doppelgängers.

One cannot remain indifferent, however, to at least one of the forest’s visitors: Orlando. Bartłomiej Cabaj, who portrays the youngest of de Boys brothers as mentally disabled, manages to make his character not only memorable but also easy to feel for.

Another noteworthy aspect of Kleczewska’s As You Like It is the design of the Forest of Arden itself. The trees have been replaced by video projections. Streams of milky white light dispersed on the transparent Plexiglas floor magically illuminate every detail of the Żeromski Theatre’s auditorium, where the action of the performance takes place.

The Forest of Arden that unfolds before our eyes in the Polish production is a bizarre one indeed. Shaped by chaotic deconstruction and filled with peculiar individuals who might potentially entice the spectator, for me it remains a temporary stop on a theatrical path rather than an unforgettable thought-provoking shelter.