A delightful and summery pleasure of revelry is brought together in Maria Alberg’s new production of this most-loved of Shakespeare’s comedies. Laura Marling’s music whisks you away to a festival atmosphere, the forest set adorned with fairy lights and rustic, camping furniture. Rarely have I left the theatre so enraptured in the joyfulness of a production. Sat at the back of the stalls, it was all my friend Julia and I could do but sway along to the final, rapturous song!
Alberg has perfectly created the anarchic summer atmosphere of the Forest of Arden, where Rosalind and Celia escape ‘to liberty and not to banishment’. This comes as a welcome respite from the bleak, leaf-littered preset and black and white costumes of the court, where the play begins. Particularly lovely was the return of Adam at the very end, smartened up in colourful knitwear, topping off the comedic ending. What has set this production apart is its fluidity and vitality, with never a dull or unfilled moment. The actors dart offstage with tremendous energy and the lighting warmly illuminates the Forest of Arden. Touchstone, dressed in tangerine leggings and often little else but his red clown nose and whitened face, doesn’t steal the show too much but adds the touches of wit the play is so famous for, achieving humour where it could have been lacking. He engaged in some audience interaction, to our delight, then “back to the text”. The company came together as an ensemble so that even the stars of the show never detracted from the narrative being told. Jacques’ seven ages of man speech, even the jesting of Touchstone, can sometimes break away from the story as set pieces but here they melded together in harmony with the action.
Pippa Nixon emerges as an entrancing talent, in her role of Rosalind, deftly switching between her poised despair at being evicted from court and spellbound meeting with Orlando, to her brilliant playacting as Ganymede with androgynous short hair and a sock to pad out her crotch. There was an amusing and telling emotional and physical closeness, with real sexual chemistry, in the mock-flirtations with Orlando (Alex Waldmann), who is cooly nerdy sporting a preppy blazer-hoody look and later a more fair isle tasselled hat. Celia, played by Joanna Horton, emerges from being a refined young lady in black velvet, to a quietly courageous, festival explorer in the forest with comic ‘blonde’ moments balanced by kindly companionship with Rosalind.
All in all some inventive characterisation: Duke Snr dressed like a David Bowie in his soul era, a Jamaican weed-smoking Minister, a Welsh obsessive Jacques, and a company of vibrant festival goers with fair isle knits and neon brights (although – and this barely detracted at all – some of the costumes were not quite realistically reminiscent of Latitude or Glastonbury, Celia’s first festival outfit being especially frumpy.)
The beautiful, ethereal ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ by Laura Marling was underpinned by the joyful convulsions of Jacques, delighting in the melancholy. A haunting, folksy soundtrack to rejuvenate the ensemble on their pastoral retreat.
As You Like It is playing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 28 September and is then touring to Newcastle in October.
Here I discuss Laura Marling’s music for the show, along with the beautiful trailer.
This review appears in an extended, edited form in The Student Journals.