Theatre Review: RSC AS YOU LIKE IT – The Lowry, Salford

The company of RSC's AS YOU LIKE IT.

The company of RSC’s AS YOU LIKE IT. Photo Credit: Christopher McGrillis

3 out of 5 stars

As part of a Royal Shakespeare Company’s national tour of three Shakespeare productions: As You Like It, The Taming of The Shrew and Measure for Measure, Kimberley Sykes directs this strident, contemporary version of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It at The Lowry Theatre. Everything you can see from the stage, costumes, sets and props, are created by their teams in their own workshops and rehearsalrooms and they are indeed, impressive.

In this particular version, Kimberley Sykes brings Shakespeare back to the playwright who wrote with an audience he and the actors’ could see from the stage. The audiences for a Shakespeare play were always called upon and included by the actors as superfluous courtiers, soldiers, allies or enemies alongside the play and there is audience participation within this play, whether it be a epilogue directed to us or several members of the audience pulled up on stage to participate physically.

Lucy Phelps as Rosalind in AS YOU LIKE IT

Lucy Phelps as Rosalind in RSC’s AS YOU LIKE IT. Photo Credit: Christopher McGrillis

Duke Senior, Anthony Byrne, has been forced into exile by his brother, also played by Anthony Byrne, Duke Frederick. He takes refuge in the Forest of Arden whilst his daughter Rosalind, played by the naturally comedic Lucy Phelps, remains at court with her cousin Celia, Sophie Khan Levy. The two have a great natural chemistry and play their co-dependant characters to a tee. Lucy’s Rosalind is a thoroughly modern heroine and I personally feel is the highlight of the production, she, like the rest of the cast, manages the gender swapping roles well to begin, but as this continues throughout the second half, it begins to get a little disruptive. The decision to cast Jacques as a woman, played by the straight talking Sophie Stanton, however is genius. The famous “All the world’s a stage” speech has new life breathed into it!

Orlando, son of Sir Rowland de Bois, played in tonight’s performance by understudy Aaron Thiara, has been kept in paucity and without status since the death of their father by his brother, Oliver, Leo Wan. After a forceful quarrel with his sibling, Orlando decide to wrestle for his fortune at court, this is where he happens upon Rosalind and, such as happens in these situations, immediately falls head over heels in love with the feisty Lady of the court.

Leo Wan as Oliver and Richard Clews as Adam in RSC's AS YOU LIKE IT

Leo Wan as Oliver and Richard Clews as Adam in RSC’s AS YOU LIKE IT. Photo Credit: Christopher McGrillis

Rosalind, then banished by her uncle, the Duke, flees to the Forest of Arden, accompanied by her cousin and the court fool, portrayed very amusingly by Sandy Grierson. Here we see Rosalind deciding to swap gender roles and disguising herself as a boy, Ganymede. Coincidentally, after hearing of a plot to kill him by his own brother, Oliver, Orlando too hastens to the Forest, sick with love for his Rosalind. It’s here that he encounters her is disguise as Ganymede and the comedy ensues.

Whilst the first half of the productions is fast paced, riotous in parts and easy to follow, the second half becomes a little stunted. There is a musical dance number with Jacques, that doesn’t connect to the narrative of the play and it feels at some points as if they are just filling in time. Similarly at the conclusion of the play, a set change to reveal a very looming,wooden forest nymph-like creature that spans the entirety of stage occurs. This takes quite a while and is not seamless and whilst well crafted, there is also no real reasoning for it to be in the play either, it left me a little baffled. Perhaps they had surplus budget and deemed this a welcome addition to the set but personally I didn’t get it.