Last Updated on
As You Like It – Shakespeare’s playful comedy.
After a run at Stratford, The Royal Shakespeare Company has brought a trio of Shakespeare’s plays to play in repertoire at the Barbican Theatre: As You Like It, Measure for Measure and Taming of The Shrew.
Director Kimberley Syke’s playful production of As You Like It is a modern, gender-fluid take on Shakespeare’s renowned comedy. To their credit, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s casting is 50:50 gender-balanced and consciously focuses on inclusion. This works in many respects, although I questioned the necessity of the shepherd Silvius who is desperately in love with the audacious Phoebe (Laura Elsworthy), being played as shepherdess Silvia as it didn’t seem to fit comfortably, however Sophie Stanton made a noble and likeable Jaques and managed to give a new take on the iconic speech “All the worlds a stage”.
The expansive Barbican stage accommodates Stephen Brimson Lewis’s simple and elegant set; a balcony creates an additional level as well as housing the musicians. Bretta Gerecke’s lighting design also plays a significant role in this production, in particular when Rosalind, Celia and Orlando journey into the Forest of Arden after their banishment. A giant circular wooden structure lit from behind creates dappled sunlight and a suitable sense of wonderment, whilst the forest also becomes the frantic backstage at a theatre, complete with costume rails and house lights which come on to mark the moment.
There are some strong performances from this large ensemble. Lucy Phelps makes a thoroughly modern and spritely Rosalind, who she imbues with physicality and a lovely youthful desire for Orlando; she is partnered particularly well by an unusually feisty Celia – great credit goes to Sophie Khan Levy for her fresh interpretation.
David Ajao’s Orlando is both naïve and full of adolescent energy however he lacked subtlety; Leo Wan plays his weedy and spiteful brother Oliver, the eldest son of Sir Rowland de Bois, and Antony Byrne makes a fiendish Duke Frederick and also doubles as Duke Senior, Rosalind’s exiled father.
The real comedy stems from Sandy Grierson’s brilliantly witty rock n roll Touchstone, who is cross between a balding Keith Richard and Willy Wonka, clad in tight tartan trousers, red Cuban heels, and a sequinned top. He takes Touchstone to a new level and works his magic on every scene, including wooing the deaf Audrey (Charlotte Arrowsmith) who is amusingly interpreted by the adoring William. Touchstone also toys marvellously with the audience, who are in fact also called on for a bit of panto style participation… dare you sit in the front row?
But where there is plenty of invention and humour in Syke’s production, it also lacks fluidity and the real sense of pace that the Bard’s classic comedic tale demands, I was slightly perturbed by the level of ‘shouty acting’ which didn’t seem called for and doesn’t really suit the beauty of Shakespeare’s lyrical text.
No matter, harmony came in the form some lovely musical interludes with Emily Johnstone’s beautiful folk singing and all was well in the Forest of Arden.
The RSC production of As You Like It at the Barbican until 18 January. For more about the three productions making up the RSC Autumn/Winter season at the Barbican please check our preview.
Barbican Arts Centre
London EC2Y 8DS