As You Like It

Reviewer's rating

The new production of AS YOU LIKE IT at the RSC is simply a delight from start to finish, though it is also very anti-magical for much of its running time. It starts with the explanation that most of the main cast on the stage performed together in this play 35 years ago in Stratford and they are reunited to go through their parts again. The actor who played Old Adam has died (he would be 114 now), and is represented by a large coat to rather moving effect.

Starting off as if in a large rehearsal room, with a fairly bare stage, we have before us a collection of superb, experienced actors “of a certain age” and from the first moments as they begin to perform their parts there’s awareness of the two great strengths of this age-blind, geriatric production: we are watching people of huge experience who know precisely how to convey their roles, seemingly effortlessly; and we’re listening to people who are well trained in the tradition of speaking Shakespeare so that it is both comprehensible and musical. This production seems to be embedded in its approach in a quiet, almost relentless way; but it turns out that it has places to go and surprises in store. At the end of the first half it erupts into music, dance and the first of several unexpected moments that develop in the second half into something that is finally magical.

This production starts out emphasizing the darker opening sequences of the story, the dangerous and politically unstable politics of the court, and the evil undercurrents. It then develops step by step into the exuberant, liberating and redemptive magic of the Forest of Arden.

The cast of veterans is so strong that every single one stands out. Maureen Beattie is a particularly positive and utterly memorable Celia; James Hayes is a brilliant, satiric and vaudeville-friendly Touchstone; Christopher Saul is a strong Jacques. I really enjoyed all the secondary lovers: Celia Bannerman’s Phoebe and David Sibley’s touching Corin especially stood out for me.  Michael Bertenshaw was a convincing wicked brother at first as Oliver de Bois and then made a great deal of his transformation, redemption and awakening to love. I also thought the casting of Robin Soans as both Duke Senior and Duke Frederick worked particularly well.

The most magical moments included, as they must, the sequences involving the wooing of Rosalind as Ganymede by Orlando. Both Malcolm Sinclair as Orlando and the gloriously lovely Geraldine James as Rosalind/Ganymede conveyed the youthful exuberance and excitement of first love with elegance, immense humour and real charm. Geraldine James and Malcolm Sinclair ring every possible moment of delight and mischief, poetry and romance, out of their parts.

The production ends with a stunning coup de théâtre which I don’t want to give away and there are many moments of illumination to be had throughout the evening. The four young actors incorporated into the play were charming and there was a real sense of their being mentored by more experienced colleagues. It was wonderful to see veteran actors playing parts that they first undertook decades ago with such technical ease and emotional understanding. The entire productions team needs to be praised – Omar Elerian as a very sensitive and imaginative director; the designs by Ana Inés and Jabares-Pita; the evocative lighting by Jackie Shemesh; and both composer Will Gregory and the musical ensemble that descends from the flies unexpectedly. This is an As You Like It to cherish.