The RSCs production of ‘As You Like It’ began 10 to 15 minutes before the audience got themselves seated, 10 to 15 minutes before the time on the ticket. I say 10 to 15 minutes before but I was actually in the bar ordering drinks for the interval with my good chum Helen at this time but Orlando and Adam were certainly on the stage when we went in.
Orlando and Adam spent the time before the start clearing leaves from the court grounds. Orlando played by a boyish looking Alex Waldmann is a youth of high birth who has been sorely treat at court and not allowed or denied the status and education that his birth warrants. Orlando also has a great friendship with Adam, a man of advanced years who chooses to leave the court and suffer the privations of the Forest of Arden with Orlando rather than see out his days under the tyranny of the court and leave his good friend. In a simple, silent scene the RSC had spelt out their relationship… Shakespeare’s words did the rest.
The staging by Naomi Dawson and lighting by James Farncombe deserves a deal of the credit for creating a perfect ‘As You Like It’. The stage is full of high columns that when illuminated with brooding lighting create a heavy, dark atmosphere perfect for the scenes of tyranny but when illuminated with lighting of a sunnier disposition create a light, summery atmosphere that is perfect for the comedy and exploration of love that takes place. Part of the stage would also rotate at the appropriate moment creating a sense that the actors were arriving to their cues through a dense forest. The stage was a perfect setting.
The tyranny at court almost seems like merely the thing that gets the play started and puts everyone in their positions and on their cue for the exploration of love and comedy that unfolds.
The comedy certainly unfolds with Touchstone played by Nicolas Tennant. While his red nose and clown makeup may not have suited everyone, clowns are a bit scary aren’t they, he appeared every inch the court jester or a very good stand up comic which at one point he turned into. His scenes with Audrey played by Rosie Hilal where he is basically after sex and sees his only chance is through marriage with Audrey, who is quite happy to trade her sex for marriage, were excellently played out with Melancholy Jaques played by Oliver Ryan. Thankfully the whole wedding would have been a legal farce anyway as Sir Oliver Martext played by David Fishley as a big, stoned Rastafarian, that everyone would love as a friend but maybe not to officiate at their wedding, couldn’t quite get it all together for the couples big day.
The play has a number of themes one of the most important is friendship, particularly that of Orlando and Adam but even more so is the friendship of Rosalind and Celia played by Pippa Nixon and Joanna Horton. The friendship between Rosalind and Celia is beautiful to see, Celia will always protect Rosalind but is not frightened to put her in her place particularly in the scenes where Rosalind gabbles away not allowing Celia to speak. Through Joanna Horton Celia became, I was told, the friend that every girl needs, someone who will always watch out for you and have your back.
The most important theme of the play though is love and Rosalind played by Pippa Nixon is such a fully formed Shakespearean character played out so well that love not just the lust that Touchstone has is so well explained and explored through her play acting with and schooling of Orlando, her scolding of Phebe and her indignation on behalf of Silvius.
One of the difficulties of convincing people who haven’t seen the play is that a woman dressed as a man can convince someone who is besotted by them that they are in fact a man and not the love of their life. This difficulty is simply thrown aside by Pippa Nixon’s transformation from the pretty Rosalind into the tall, handsome Ganymede… with a sock stuffed down her pants for added masculinity. Well the play itself does admit that it doesn’t work quite fully; Phebe, played by Natalie Klamar may lust after Ganymede but in her speech to her true love Silvius she constantly remarks on parts of Ganymede that don’t quite add up, the pretty redness of his lips, his complexion, but Phebe feels ‘he’ll make a proper man’.
The play revolves around Rosalind, she is the most complete female character in Shakespeare and even some of the best lines spoken by say Melancholy Jaques such as ‘all the world’s a stage…’ appear light compared to Rosalind’s dialogue and delivery.
Nearing the end Rosalind as Ganymede conjures up the perfect ending for the play. As Ganymede she promises to marry both Phebe and Orlando and make Silvius content. The play ends with Rosalind returning as a woman and everyone being matched with who they should be.
Now back as Rosalind, Pippa Nixon finishes the play perfectly with the epilogue that may have been written in deference to men who may have been put out that Shakespeare had given the best lines and the best part to a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man who is really a woman… my head hurts thinking about that.
And the play had music by Laura Marling, a double bass, new age hippies, a bare chested wrestling match by two fit guys and a lot of beer being thrown around… could it get any better?
Hats off to the RSC and here’s to their return next year.