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As You Like It - William Shakespeare

Published on September 1st 2005.

Confession time. The 38 plays of William Shakespeare have become a lifetime obsession. I have seen 'As You Like It' many times. Whilst still a young student I saw a most marvellous production directed by Michael Elliott ( later to weave his magic here in Manchester ) which had a stunning Rosalind in the shape of very young Vanessa Redgrave. Since then no production of the play has ever come close to matching it. The play has ( for me ) diminished in stature on each subsequent viewing. Now it is my least favourite Shakespeare play . Hopefully by indicating my prejudice “You dear Reader “can instil some objectivity into my words.

Arguably, since its formation over four decades ago, the RSC has become the world’s greatest Shakespearian ensemble. The current production does no harm to this reputation. The usual suspects abound :banishment , cross dressers, star crossed lovers, a forest and even the evil Duke. It’s all there , coupled with the melancholic Jaques (played thoughtfully by Joseph Maydell) and the clown, Touchstone. If there ever was an unfunnier clown in the whole of classical drama, it has been my luck never to have encountered him .Paul Chahidi, mainly by way of the unspoken, does a fine job, but to make this clown funny is mission impossible.

The plot which ends up with the marriages of four couples, is centred round the principal lovers Rosalind and Orlando. well played by Lia Williams and Barnaby Kay respectively. I felt strangely unmoved by their attempts to demonstrate either unbridled love or passion .This may be blasphemous but the feeling persists that this is the fault of the play and not the players . Somehow love at first sight does not complement 21st century experience and in any event Shakespeare’s own philosophical definition ( in sonnet 116 ) of love as 'the marriage of true minds' seems the right one and far removed from anything that happens in this forest.

Amanda Harris playing Celia , the daughter of the villainous Duke Senior, is brilliant. This Celia played as one of “ the Belles of St Trinians “ is wonderfully perceived. She adds considerably to the plays action . There is much music . It adds little to this 'comedy' and often seems out of synchronisation with the events unfolding before us. Sometimes it even intrudes.

Rae Smith designed the set. About twenty years years ago I recall seeing a 'Twelfth Night' directed by John Caird in which a very similar tree acted as the focal point and unswerving centrepiece to his production. I wonder if such tree has been allowed to grow in Bancroft Gardens and as an economy measure recycled here.

A good production ,well directed by Dominic Cooke . Nothing new , but built on solid historical research. That Michael Boyd includes it in the 'Comedies' season need not excite too much expectation in the Playgoer. It has very few laughs and most of those are RSC made ,not Shakespearian wordplay . Be wary of this 'comedy'. Be very wary indeed.

Richard Burbage

Royal Shakespeare Theatre , Stratford - Upon – Avon
Until October 28th RSC Box Office 0870 609 1110

Royal Shakespeare Company

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