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As You Like It, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

Maria Roberts thinks this is the best thing she's seen at RX for years

Published on July 11th 2011.

As You Like It, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

There are few plays where the women steal the show with such ease. In the Royal Exchange’s off-kilter production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of concealed identities, verbal jousting, and a silly amount of weddings, Kelly Hotten, as Celia, and Cush Jumbo, as Rosalind, do just that.

Hotten and Jumbo as mischievous cousins are the best combination of actresses I have ever seen at the Royal Exchange. 

This is Shakespeare, and if you are not familiar with the play, it is true to form with its ‘warring families’ storyline. Beautiful young Rosalind is banished, as is her father, and it’s all the fault of her evil uncle. Elsewhere, an elder brother has it in for the younger brother, Orlando, and so he is on the run too. 

Fortunately, Rosalind and Orlando meet at a party, and two minutes later fall madly and deeply in love. They each separately dash to the Forest of Arden, where it seems everybody else is hiding out, and love’s young dreamers are riven by the belief that they may not see one another again. Here the comedy of errors begins when Rosalind, disguised as a boy called Ganymede, bumps into her young lover, Orlando. 

On the night I attended, a fair few children were with their parents, or on some sort of excursion — at three hours from entry to exit, the play could be considered overlong; especially, for a young audience. 

Yet don’t let the duration deter you because this production is delightful, made more so by the flawless performances of every member of the cast.  

The play has been modernised through props and set design, even the costumes are a T-shirt and jeans affair. More impressive then that Shakespeare’s language danced off the actors’ tongues and onto the stage.

Hotten and Jumbo as mischievous cousins are the best combination of actresses I have ever seen at the Royal Exchange; they buzzed and burred off one another as their characters gambolled from scene to scene embarking on one caper after another. The attention to detail in all the performances was fascinating; a clap of the hands, the raise of a chin, a swagger, a grin, a glint in the eye of every cast member, even the busker, made for a kind of magic that carried the story along. 

Yes, the play is a slow starter, but it is soon jettisoned by fun set pieces, such as a flashy wrestling match, and the sweet courtship tomfoolery that Audrey (played by Victoria Elliott) and Phoebe (Zora Bishop) bestow on their men. 

This is the best production I’ve seen at the Royal Exchange for a long time. It’s excellent and heartily recommended. 

As You Like It is directed by Greg Hersov, designed by Ashley Martin-Davis, and is at The Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, from Weds 29 June – Sat 6 August.

This production is part of the Not Part of Manchester Festival festival. Yes it's complicated, click here for the full story

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Christine KilbyAugust 7th 2011.

A great review with which I entirely agree. I loved every minute of this play and the audience were perfect. You could hear a pin drop which is rare these days ...

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