Confession: As You Like It is not my favourite Shakespeare play. In fact, I can find it a bit tedious. So it’s testament to the talent of director Kimberley Sykes that this production held my attention throughout, and I found myself enjoying it very much.
The tale of Rosalind, daughter of a deposed Duke, and her adventures in the Forest of Arden disguised as a young man called Ganymede, is a familiar one, but this production makes it fresh and new. Beginning with a wrestling match, during which Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, son of her father’s devoted friend, Rosalind is soon exiled and escapes to the forest with her loyal cousin Celia. Taking Shakespeare’s famous “All the world’s a stage” as a starting point, the transformation of the stage into the forest incorporates backstage costume and crew and from then on the production includes members of the audience, from the individual members brought on stage to hold the letters spelling out Rosalind’s name, to the entire auditorium included in the group of friends addressed by the deposed Duke.
In a sharp contrast to her performance in Measure for Measure, Lucy Phelps is superb as Rosalind, with an appealing sense of fun. As Celia, Sophie Khan Levy is a standout, acting as a comic foil to her on-stage cousin and chatting with members of the audience, grabbing the programme to excitedly point at her picture and say, “That’s me!”. David Ajao makes an appealing Orlando, while Sophie Stanton makes an impression as a female Jacques.
Sandy Grierson steals the show as the clown Touchstone, in this production something of a Rupert the Bear lookalike, and his wooing of goatherd Audrey (Charlotte Arrowsmith) is superbly entertaining, made more interesting by the addition of sign language.
On a mostly bare stage, the huge puppet representing Hymen, the god of marriage, makes even more of an impact; a magical end to an impressive production.