The Theatreguide.London Review
As You Like It
RSC at Barbican Theatre Autumn-Winter 2019-2020
This may well be the
healthiest and happiest play ever written. It cheers your heart,
raises your spirits and cleanses your soul.
It is so perfect that
even the RSC's self-consciousness and ponderousness can't spoil it –
though it does seem at moments like they're trying.
This is the one
in which a boy and girl meet-cute, and the next time they meet she
(for plot reasons that make sense at the time) is disguised as a boy.
He doesn't recognise her, and to test him and tease herself she
invites him to try out his wooing techniques with her.
The very, very
best thing about this RSC production, beyond the play itself, is Lucy
Phelps as Rosalind. Phelps communicates both the spunky
and the love-sick femininity of the girl with equal believability and
But even more, she recognises what too few Rosalinds realise – that the central joke of the play is not the trick she is playing on Orlando but the trap she has caught herself in, inviting him to declare his love for her while she has to remain aloof and resisting, when all she really wants to do is throw herself at him.
keeps Rosalind's exquisite torment always dominant, so that we
sympathise even as we laugh at her plight. Much of the healthy spirit
I mentioned earlier comes from the play's warm love for all its
characters, and Phelps keeps us always wanting the best for Rosalind.
Her characterisation is
the engine that drives the play and you miss
her whenever she's offstage.
Kimberley Sykes has
cast women in some roles written for men, with mixed results. Sophie
Stanton invests the cynic Jacques with unexpected and welcome warmth
by giving her melancholy a maternal flavour, as if she has seen too
much of the mess men have made of the world but can't help loving
In less adept hands
Jacques can seem out of step with
the rest of the play, and Stanton brings the character into its
Less successful is
turning the lovesick shepherd
Silvius into rustic lesbian Silvia.
An essay in the
this in terms of the play's already-present toying with the fluidity
of gender identities. But that reads exactly like what it is, the
work of an Associate Professor of English, sure to lead to a
promotion but with no real relevance to the play as experienced by
actual audiences. (As a former Professor of English myself, I'm
allowed to say that.)
Silvia's passion for
Phoebe requires too much
cutting or rewriting of lines, makes mincemeat of the
characterisations, and just adds too little to the play.
actors stuck with playing Orlando David Ajao is unable to do much
with the generally thankless straight-man role. I've seen occasional
Orlandos find a bit more in the part, but there's no shame in failing.
Sophie Khan Levy is given even less to work with as Celia, and must
settle for serving the play almost anonymously.
Sandy Grierson seems
to have taken Max Wall as his external model for Touchstone, half sad
tramp and half red-nose clown, but in the process he loses much sense
of the character.
Forgive me for lapsing
back into ex-professor mode,
but one of Touchstone's functions is to represent a court figure
totally out of place in the country ('A Fool in the forest!' exclaims
Jacques in delighted surprise), and Grierson offers too little of
Another of Kimberley
Sykes's directorial choices is to play
around with the fourth wall (again defended by an academic article in
the programme). But she does it so randomly and inconsistently that
those moments play like interruptions rather than a controlling
The house lights are
brought up for most of the
forest scenes, and set pieces like the Seven Ages Of Man are played
directly to us, with no pretence of naturalism.
The actors wander out
into the audience a couple of times, Touchstone showers the front row
with glitter for reasons I've forgotten, and a few audience members
are dragged onstage to play the trees Orlando writes his love poems
By the time we get to
the giant puppet in the last scene you
can't help feeling money is being spent just because money was there
to be spent, not that it serves the play in any real way.
See the play for Lucy Phelps's radiant Rosalind. See it for Sophie Stanton's warm and maternal Jacques. Above all, see it because the play itself is one of the wonders of the world.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review.