As You Like It – May 2013

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Maria Aberg

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 29th May 2013

We were sitting by the left walkway tonight, and although there was a pillar right in front of us, we managed to enjoy the performance as much as before as well as seeing some extra things we’d missed the last time. The performances had all come on, with the first half still being less fun and the second half being really good, and we stayed on for the post-show which added some useful information.

Orlando sat at the back of the stage in the pre-performance hiatus, when Adam was taking the first lot of leaves off to the compost heap. His rollup was stashed behind his ear, and I noticed tonight that Orlando repeated some of his words as people often do in normal speech; don’t know if it was deliberate or not, though someone else did the same thing, but once they were all in Arden, the repetitions stopped and the dialogue flowed more easily.

Celia and Rosalind entered as the other women and men were forming up at the back for the formation hand movement section. I could see this more clearly from our angle tonight, and it was a bit more interesting. We learned later that this was a way of representing the repressive nature of Duke Frederick’s court, with the movements coming out of improvisation sessions. The other women continued to do these movements in the background during the rest of the scene, making them seem more and more creepy and controlling, while the men hung around them, smoking cigarettes and eyeing the women up as if they were sexual objects. Touchstone was also present at the beginning, making different movements and then leaving. His outfit at this point was all black, with a proper jacket, the bowler hat and black leggings.

I couldn’t see all the detail in the Rosalind/Celia dialogue tonight, but I don’t think Celia repeated her monster face this time. The men at the back had gradually left the stage to the women, who stopped their movements when La Belle came on to announce the wrestling match and stood there, listening to what was going on and looking like three backing singers.

The men came back to set up the wrestling pit, and I was much more aware of Touchstone’s role in the pre-match entertainment this time. With some comedy music playing, he blindfolded Orlando as before, then did some measuring of him – the court laughed – and then threw the water over him. The Duke was more smartly dressed this time, with his shirt tucked in and wearing a waistcoat. Charles bore the marks of his previous bouts, with a few bruises on his face and possibly some on his body.

Orlando stood up before he was attacked this time, and at some point he laughed out loud, not sure why. The Duke was standing very close to the pit during the fight, keen to see every gory detail – not a nice man. When Orlando was down in one corner, Rosalind ran round to kneel behind him and said her line “Oh excellent young man”, which revived Orlando and led to his success.

When the Duke was banishing Rosalind, he threw her into the wrestling pit. Celia took off her own shoes to join her there. When Orlando returned to his brother’s house, he was nursing his own bruises, and despite his reluctance, Adam cleaned his face. It was Adam who insisted on carrying the heavy bag – smaller black mark tonight – and after they left, Corin came on and drew the circle in the pit. This reminded us of Prospero drawing a circle at the end of The Tempest, especially the recent Globe production where the actions were very similar.

Corin waited in the pit while the revolve started turning, revealing Rosalind in her man’s outfit and carrying a big rucksack. Touchstone came on with one small carrier bag, and the two of them stood, enjoying the peace of the forest. As Rosalind was telling us all about it, there was a sound and a yelp off stage, which led Rosalind to acknowledge that she “must comfort the weaker vessel”. At this point Celia staggered on stage, heavily laden, and when she tried to put down her load she fell over backwards and lay there, unable to get up. No help from the two ‘men’, but then we all laughed at the poor girl ourselves, so no finger pointing allowed.

After the three of them hid to watch Silvius and Corin, Celia had recovered enough to sit on a little stool, which is when she asked for one of the others to call the shepherd back and ask about the local dining options. Neither was keen – they both edged away saying “you go” to the other. To prepare Rosalind for her first encounter in her manly disguise, Touchstone put something down her trousers – didn’t see what, but it got a good laugh. When Celia spoke up, she was warned by a look and changed her accent, also funny.

The guitarist singing Under The Greenwood Tree strolled onto stage alone, followed by Jacques as he asked for “more”. As the next verse was sung and Jacques did his twitchy dance, other forest Lords were setting up the revolve with assorted items, including the red car seat, and ended up as a little group near the back of the stage to join in Jacques’ extra verse. It wasn’t so clear this time whether Jacques was the one in the circle or the others. I took a note that there was line in the song which echoed Adam’s last line after leaving Oliver’s place, but I can’t find it in my text, so will have to pay attention next time we see this.

The mobile bandstand turned up when the Duke arrived, and although I remember Jacques referring to the audience when giving some examples of the people he would satirise if he were a fool, tonight all the examples were supplied by the lords on stage. When Orlando turned up and threatened them, Jacques grabbed a pear and took a bite out of it, just to be awkward. Orlando was given a mug of something after he put down his knife (on the chair?) and just before he went into the “If ever you…” speech.

At the end of that scene, the two Dukes were on stage together, and took a long look at each other before Duke Frederick had a go at Oliver. I noticed that the Duke’s anger was demonstrated by the clenching of his right fist. Discussing this the next day with some friends, we were reminded that the younger Duke has banished his older brother; perhaps Duke Frederick sees whatever he disliked in his older brother echoed in Oliver’s comment about Orlando. Interesting point to ponder. Meanwhile Orlando came on with his accordion and augmented his song with such additions as “walk the line” and “feel your power” before rushing off to plaster his creative efforts over the whole forest.

The stage was changed as before, though this time I noticed a hammock was slung between pillars on the revolve. Once the changes were complete, Corin and Touchstone sauntered on stage, and while Touchstone wandered about looking bored, Corin tended the stage by looking around to spot anything out of place; he picked up a few stray leaves from the opening orchard scene and deposited them elsewhere. I noticed that Touchstone was in the orange leggings by this time; don’t know if he wore them earlier as well. The outfit was completed with a T-shirt and a grey hoodie.

Eventually the two men sat down with their backs to a pillar and the second half began. Touchstone just couldn’t get comfortable, Corin was extremely relaxed, and whatever he spotted in the trees was still invisible to Touchstone, although there was some lovely birdsong on the go all through this section. When Touchstone was swishing his stick around, he didn’t hit the ground but he did hit his big toe – ouch! We laughed. Bored with the stick, he then spent a minute or two trying to touch his (red) nose with his tongue – more laughter. There were a couple of musicians on stage at the back during this bit, just minding their own business.

After Rosalind arrived and the fun with rhyming couplets began, she and Touchstone were sparring a bit in a jocular fashion. He got a little too rough, and Rosalind said “stop it”. When Celia arrived with the longer poem, the musicians began to play along. She looked round at them, puzzled, and one chap held up another sheet of paper – they had their own copy of the poem. Reassured, Celia returned to her oration, happy to sing along as the music developed, even getting up on the fridge to belt out the final bit. It was a fine performance and we enjoyed it a lot.

Celia warned us to ‘watch’ Rosalind before she told her about Orlando, and she pulled Rosalind’s trousers back up after she’d dropped them on “doublet and hose”. She got very annoyed at the constant interruptions while she was telling her story, but then they were both interrupted as Orlando himself, accompanied by Jacques, came on stage. Rosalind and Celia ‘hid’ over on the right of the stage, and despite Rosalind’s loud screams at the sight of her beloved, the two men managed to carry on their conversation relatively oblivious to their presence. Mind you, Alex Waldmann did have some trouble keeping a straight face, but he didn’t corpse. There was also a whimper from both Celia and Rosalind at one point, don’t remember the exact line.

Rosalind was very nervous before speaking to Orlando; her opening line wasn’t as loud as the previous performance. Celia crept stealthily onto the revolve as Rosalind was discoursing on “time”, and was trying to hide behind the fridge when Rosalind introduced her; she popped up, slightly embarrassed, and waved at Orlando. As the scene proceeded she sat on the fridge having taken a beer out of it first. Orlando wasn’t able to light his cigarette tonight, so after a few tries they skipped that bit of business. When Rosalind challenged him about being the tree-published poet, he took bundles of poems out of every pocket, which was funny. He also took out the necklace which Rosalind had given him – didn’t spot if she reacted or not, and we didn’t have the best angle to see – and he held onto it, kissing it occasionally, as he asserted his love for Rosalind. It was very clear in this performance that Rosalind was testing Orlando’s love for her. I took a note that Celia and Rosalind high-fived, presumably at the end of the scene.

Touchstone used a deodorant spray before proposing to Audrey, using way too much – even Audrey was coughing and waving it away. He had a go at undoing her top – no luck, and it was the same story with her skirt. In the end, he got down on one knee, and had a go at proposing. Several goes in fact, as the word “marry” was a difficult one for him to pronounce.

Audrey was delighted with his proposal, and ran off gleefully to prepare herself for the big moment. Touchstone sat down and lit a fag, and then began chatting with a chap in the audience; this went much better than last time. The chap in question was called Sean, and he was very helpful, informing us that he’d been married for 25 years, although the woman he was with that night wasn’t his wife! His wife was at home, apparently, and the dry way that Nicolas Tennant made no comment left us to create the humour for ourselves. Back on text, Sir Oliver came on singing a reggae song, just as ‘chilled’ as before, and I noticed that when Audrey reappeared she was combing her furry boots as well as her hair. Jacques had been hiding all this while behind a few leaves he was holding in his hands and the occasional skinny pillar, all of which was good fun.

When Rosalind and Celia returned, I had a clearer impression of Celia’s conviction that Orlando wasn’t truly in love with Rosalind. The wooing between Silvius and Phoebe soon interrupted them, and this scene worked even better this time round. In addition to my previous description of her, Phoebe wore a pink ribbon in her hair and ordinary boots – don’t know if that was a change or my dodgy memory the first time. She took down the straps of her dungarees while flirting with Ganymede, and after ‘he’ left, she sat in the red chair and flipped over backwards as she talked about him. Then she sat on the fridge, which apparently doubled as a washing machine, contributing to an orgasm which was a bit over the top for me. Phoebe used a nearby poem to cover her crotch afterwards, and she and Silvius were soon off stage once she’d recovered.

Jacques looked closely at Rosalind during their short conversation, and Rosalind moved away quickly to avoid detection. Orlando seemed even more dishevelled when he turned up, and Celia, who had been sitting on the hammock from early on in the scene, came and sat on the fridge and looked dubious throughout Rosalind and Orlando’s discussion. I thought it was a bit rich for Rosalind to make the point that no one ever died for love, having just told off Phoebe for making the same point to Silvius, but she does it so well we can’t help but forgive her. Rosalind definitely spotted Orlando’s erection this time – this was a better angle for seeing the details of their encounter – and they had a cuddle before Orlando left, rather than the expected kiss.

After he left, Celia went off stage while Rosalind sat by a pillar and began to sing. The other women in the cast brought on torches and, with Rosalind still singing, did a little processional dance round the centre of the stage. After that, Silvius came on with the letter from Phoebe, and I noticed that he took out a book to read as he sat in a corner to wait for Ganymede to finish; what a patient man. Celia certainly felt sympathy for him, looking upset at the way he was treated. In the next scene, she was also clearly smitten by Oliver when he came on; mind you, the three actors had to work hard to keep their faces straight, as Luke Norris snorted during his description of Orlando’s discovery of his brother.

As Rosalind was recovering from her faint, she had clearly forgotten where and who she was, so Celia had to cough to remind her that she was disguised as a man. Oliver still had no idea he was talking to a woman. I forgot to mention last time that the bloody napkin was in the map pouch, tucked behind the map. Oliver showed it to the women before taking it out and handing it to Ganymede.

When Touchstone issued the death threat against William, Audrey was astonished – no man had ever gone that far before to win her love – and this Audrey is still the keenest to marry Touchstone that I’ve ever seen. While Orlando and Oliver were talking about Oliver’s new relationship, I could see that Orlando, though happy for his brother, was being constantly reminded of the lack of his own love, which would prompt his “I can live no longer by thinking” a short while later. I also reckoned that, generous though it might seem, Oliver giving Orlando all his lands wasn’t that much of a gift; if Orlando turned up to claim them, he would have to deal with the Duke, so wouldn’t get  much time to enjoy his new-found wealth.

Ganymede brought grapes for the invalid, and she drew out the bloody napkin when offering to bring Rosalind to the wedding ceremony the next day. Orlando was still pondering her words when Phoebe and Silvius came on. Although the Audrey and Touchstone dialogue was cut, they did come on for a few minutes while the musicians sang a song, and during this the rest of the cast started setting up the stage for the weddings. There was dancing and laughter and lots of bunting and ribbons. We spotted Adam helping out too, and he came over and shook hands with Oliver. Audrey returned with her blue petticoat, white veil and red nose, and there was another song as Hymen entered, carrying ribbons to use for handfasting.

Once the young ladies had been brought on by Hymen, Orlando came over to Rosalind in the centre of the stage and held her arms to check that she was real. Then he gave her back her necklace, putting it over her head. Hymen went round the couples, who were kneeling in the four angles of the stage, giving them ribbons to tie their hands together, and each couple used their ribbons differently. After the ceremony and Jacques’ grouchy refusal to join in the party, Rosalind handed him her bouquet as he left the stage, and much to my surprise he took it. The partying commenced, and I noticed that Adam had changed into a green housecoat and a pink woolly hat.

They used the sprinklers to break up the festivities with rain; most of the cast rushed to the back of the stage to be under cover, leaving Orlando and Rosalind kissing in the middle of the stage. After some time, they realised they were being watched, and Orlando stepped back to leave Rosalind centre stage for the epilogue (the rain stopped as well). She ruffled up her hair a bit when addressing the men, and included Sean specifically in her speech, a nice touch. We applauded heartily, and the cast looked like they enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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