Reviewed by Nigel Chester
It’s always a pleasure to be attending the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, a great theatre with some of the best transport links in the country. The theatre bar has an extensive range of drinks, with hot and cold snacks and food available.
As ever, the staff were welcoming and efficient and we found our seats in a busy but not packed auditorium for the evening’s entertainment, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “As You Like It”, directed by Kimberly Sykes.
A comedy, believed to have been written in 1599, the play follows heroine Rosalind and Orlando who fell in love with her at first sight.
Duke Senior has been usurped by his brother Duke Frederick and lives in exile with his courtiers in the forest of Arden
Rosalind (Lucy Phelps), who was allowed to remain at court, finds herself banished from her uncle, Duke Frederick’s court and flees, disguised as a boy, Ganymede, with her cousin Celia (Sophie Khan Levy) together with court fool Touchstone (Sandy Grierson).
Impoverished by his oldest brother Oliver, Orlando, having beaten Duke Frederick’s champion wrestler is also forced to leave, joined by the ageing servant Adam.
Unknowingly they both travel to the forest of Arden, Orlando being taken in and fed by the Duke. Rosalind buying sheep and land.
Before going to see the latest production from the Royal Shakespeare Company I had read the plot summary as outlined above but, I honestly feel that it is unnecessary to have a knowledge of either Shakespeare or this play because what is delivered, is stunning and unique, it has every element of world class theatre, actors at the very top of their game, staging, costume and puppetry, live music, it was breath-taking in every aspect. It was comic genius and Touchstone would outwit and outperform any present day comedian, he was pure pantomime, but I felt the lynchpin to moving the story along was that this is a tale of human relationships, good and evil, the best and worst of man. When Martext (Karina Jones) delivered the “all the worlds a stage” speech, describing the seven ages of man, that I had heard so many times before, but I have never heard it like this but this is obviously because it is in context here.
I recently listened to a Radio 4 interview that was discussing the uniqueness of the theatrical experience, as rarely in life, do we sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers, listening to a single person and these people had so much to give us that is still relevant in today’s world. The comedy pushed the play along, Rosalind, as Ganymede was clown like, in short trousers, braces and movements, but during her epilogue she became an eloquent statesman, this production was right for today’s audience, stuffy and traditional, it isn’t.
Some of the characters genders had been altered and perhaps the most striking was the female relationship between Phoebe and Sylvia, however we must remember that all parts were played by male actors in Shakespeare’s time so there must have been a blurring of boundaries to his contemporary audience.
Another inclusion that I was pleased to see was the use of sign language, that added to the love affair between Touchstone and Audrey however it wasn’t all politically correct as vegetarians and vegans may have been disturbed when the full stag outfit from tail to antler was worn in a jaunty song and dance.
I loved every minute of it, but this wasn’t a straightforward comedy such as a Midsummer Night’s Dream, this was darker and more complex, it was as brilliant as the final scene where staging was breath-taking and wedding dances mesmerizing, I had never seen As You Like It, but cannot now wait to see it again, but know that no other version will live up to this.
It is Shakespeare delivered by the Royal Shakespeare Company, but it is for today’s audience, but I also felt that the members of the audience who knew the play well, clearly enjoyed it as much as I did, the audience was attentive and the applause loud.
Tickets cost from £10 to £32 (booking fees may apply).
As Your Like It is at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham from 26 February to 7 March 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.trch.co.uk or call the box office on 0115 989 5555.
Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham, NG1 5ND