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As You Like It – Royal Shakespeare Company – The Barbican Theatre

Lucy Phelps and David Ajao as Rosalind and Orlando - Credit Topher McGrillis RSC
Lucy Phelps and David Ajao as Rosalind and Orlando – Credit Topher McGrillis RSC.

Kimberley Sykes’ bright and breezy, very physical, production of As You Like It has opened the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Autumn season at the Barbican. The full width and depth of the expansive stage is imaginatively used by designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, the single set gradually seeming to grow over time so that it is always not only interesting to look at but also imaginatively portrays the various locations, giving many opportunities of varying stage pictures at different levels, from the court of Duke Senior in Act One to the pagan inspired nuptials of Act Five. Lewis’s work is greatly enhanced by Bretta Gerecke’s simple yet always appropriate costumes and lighting design. Rather strange is her insistence on the House Lights being raised for much of the show, often working against what she is trying to achieve on stage.

This production fields a strong team of actors, including experienced Shakespearian Antony Byrne who is superb in the dual roles of Duke Frederick, Rosalind’s usurping uncle and later as Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father. He has an immediately commanding presence and a resonant yet natural speaking voice, knowing exactly how to speak Shakespeare so as to make it immediately intelligible. His acting seems effortless: he IS the role he plays.

Another actor who impresses is Richard Clews as Adam, Orlando’s servant who again has the gift of being totally natural, yet makes his secondary roles appear much larger and of more importance than it is. He lifts the whole play whenever he appears and also demonstrates a fine singing voice.

Lucy Phelps, as Rosalind, works hard and with tremendous energy. Her voice is well projected and easily carries to the back of the house, even when she is speaking quietly. She can quickly switch from comedy to pathos and convinces throughout.

Sophie Khan Levy as Celia, Rosalind’s cousin, is at times very amusing even if her projection is not always strong enough for the size of the theatre, and Sophie Stanton has considerable stature in the regendered role of Jacques.

Orlando’s rather two-dimensional role is in the competent hands of David Ajao and Touchstone is amusingly played by Sandy Grierson, even if he does look like an interloper from Twelfth Night!

As I have already mentioned, the director has ‘regendered’ several roles, which does not always make for clarity of plot in the second half of the play: Kimberly Sykes presumably feels that everyone seeing this RSC production will have done their homework before seeing it! Also, the programme goes to great lengths to explain the interrelationship between audience and actors in Shakespeare’s time, but the audience participation in this particular production tends not only to slow the whole production down, especially at the end of the first half, where four members of the audience are invited on stage, but also to take the focus away from the play itself (“The Play’s The Thing…”). In addition, the whole audience is only once given the opportunity to ‘join in’, otherwise it is THREE – just those at the very front – who could probably not even be seen by most of the rest of the audience owing to the sight-lines from the various balconies!

In conclusion, a lively, enjoyable rendering of As You Like It, if a tad confusing for the first-timer, but with some wonderful performances. As all plays should, it certainly sends you out of the theatre talking about it!

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

All the world really is a stage in this joyous and imaginative version of Shakespeare’s madcap romantic comedy directed by Kimberley Sykes.

Rosalind is banished, and with her best friend Celia by her side, she journeys into exile. But not before catching the eye of love-struck Orlando, who is also forced from The Court into the dappled Forest of Arden. What ensues is a riotous adventure where barriers are broken down and all can discover their deeper selves.

Blending physical comedy, music, storytelling and puppetry, this playful As You Like It brings the audience right to the heart of the action and is a celebration of theatre itself.

Creative Team
Kimberley Sykes Director
Stephen Brimson Lewis Set Design
Bretta Gerecke Costumes and Lighting
Tim Sutton Music
Jonathan Ruddick Sound
Ayse Tashkiran Movement
Rachel Bown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown Fights
Mervyn Millar Puppetry

David Ajao, Charlotte Arrowsmith, Patrick Brennan, Graeme Brookes, Antony Byrne, Richard Clews, Tom Dawze, Amelia Donkor, Laura Elsworthy, Sandy Grierson, Emily Johnstone, Karina Jones, Alex Jones, Sophie Khan Levy, Lucy Phelps, Sophie Stanton, Aaron Thiara, Leo Wan.

As You Like It
Royal Shakespeare Company
Sat 26 Oct 2019—Sat 18 Jan 2020
Barbican Theatre

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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