As You Like It – February 2019

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Kimberley Sykes

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 28th February 2019

A good start to the new season. I have been concerned about some of the recent RSC ensembles, but this appears to be a strong group, with the diversity angle not weakening the acting talent at all and adding some interesting aspects to the performance. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ensemble develops over several productions.

Tonight they went with a relatively bare stage, just a central circle of grass surrounded with wooden flooring. A swing hung over the centre of the stage, spotlit, and the band were on the top balcony, across the pros arch, with another balcony below that. The side walls were covered with horizontal wood panelling. With a curtain covering the back before the start, that seemed to be it – nice and simple. The pizza slices beside the pros arch were filled with seats, and there was a good crowd tonight – not a sell-out but almost full. We sat a few rows back, to the right of the central stalls, and the stage level was about shoulder height for us, nose height for the front row.

Orlando (David Ajao) came forward and sat on the swing a few minutes before the start and stayed there, gently rocking back and forth. Modern costume – brown jeans, trainers, beige jumper, light coloured jacket. He looked miserable, which was reasonable in the circumstances. With the audience in their seats, Adam (Richard Clews) walked forward on the left walkway, holding out a spade to Orlando, who spoke his opening lines from the swing before getting up and expounding on his grievance against his brother, who then came on stage.

Oliver (Leo Wan) was much smaller than Orlando – different mothers? – and with no muscles to speak of he really should have known better than to attack a man bigger than himself. Orlando soon had him by the throat – following the directions in the text, I see – then threw Oliver onto the stage. Their argument temporarily resolved, Orlando left, taking the spade with him, and Oliver soon sent Adam packing as well. Not a nice man.

He sent a servant to fetch Charles, the wrestler, and we could see the cunning plan erupt in his brain just as Charles (Graeme Brookes) entered at the back. After the wrestler gave Oliver the information about Orlando’s challenge, Oliver gave a masterly display of deceitfulness, culminating in “I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger.” Charles looked surprised at that line, but with Oliver nearly in tears (text again) with sadness at his brother’s perfidy, the wrestler ended up comforting him as best he could. He left Oliver alone on the swing: a grin came over the latter’s face once Charles had left, as he contemplated his much-detested brother’s imminent demise. There were several good laughs during this opening scene, which warmed the audience up nicely.

After Oliver left, the swing was taken up and there was a brief spell of darkness before Rosalind (Lucy Phelps) came on, dressed in a plain black/dark blue party frock. Celia (Sophie Khan Levy) soon followed, also in evening dress (pink) and carrying two glasses of champagne. Taking their shoes off, they sat on the grass for some of their conversation, and their sisterly relationship came across well.

When Touchstone arrived, his outfit alone was enough to explain his role in the play. Bright red boots, yellow check drainpipe trousers, a dressing gown (nondescript), a glitzy top, an earring and long straggly reddish locks tumbling down from a balding head, made this one of the funniest Touchstone’s we’d seen in years, and this was before he’d said a word. But we were confident that Sandy Grierson would handle the dialogue well, and with his own Scottish accent coming to the fore, he did just that. He was eating a pancake when he came on, which he used to good effect when explaining that “the pancakes were naught and the mustard was good”, throwing the pancake away on the relevant line. He even had a mustard stain on his dressing gown, adding even more corroboration to the story.

Le Beau (Emily Johnstone) was still Le Beau (despite being la belle), and she entered pushing a small trolley which carried several posts strung with red rope. She wore a grey suit with puffed shoulders, had a severe platinum blond bob cut and there was a microphone clearly visible beside her mouth. She was a bit tottery on her high heels, but managed to get about OK. I’ll mention now that while the costume designs were mainly modern, they had a touch of the Elizabethan about them, as with Le Beau’s puffed shoulders.

Touchstone put on a red nose, and after Le Beau had explained about the wrestling, declared that this “is the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport”. No “for young ladies” this time. Good choice. Meanwhile Le Beau was busy putting up the ropes behind the grass circle, ready for the spectators. They came on and formed two groups behind the ropes, to left and right, while Duke Frederick (Anthony Byrne), the usurper, stood on the balcony, flanked by Charles and Orlando. A boxing-style trophy belt was also held up beside them, and the grey-suited courtiers below held their hands over their hearts and sang a song of praise to their Duke.

That done, the Duke came down to the stage, along with the two combatants, and asked his daughter and niece to speak to Orlando to persuade him not to fight. I don’t know why they dropped Orlando’s opening line “No, fair Princess. He is the general challenger”, and started with “I come but in as others do”, but presumably they had their reasons.

Rosalind stood front left for the fight, with Duke Frederick front right and Celia at the back, amongst the other spectators. The Duke noticed Rosalind and Celia’s reactions, and wasn’t best pleased, although we would have to wait a bit to see the consequences of that.

It wasn’t a long bout. Charles started off well, but Orlando rallied and managed to throw the other man down to win. Le Beau brought out one of those metallic blankets to cover Charles (laugh) and helped him off while Orlando came to the front for Duke Frederick to put the belt on him – the winner! We applauded. And then the Duke asked Orlando for his name. Oops. We didn’t actually feel the temperature drop, but the Duke’s face soured, and then he took the belt off Orlando before leaving, which didn’t bode well. He even kicked some of the posts over as he went. (Not in the text.)

Rosalind and Celia did their best to comfort the winner, who had just turned into a loser. Rosalind was obviously smitten, and her hands lingered as she stroked his strong, muscular arms after putting her chain around his neck. He responded by leaning forward, which made us laugh. She and Celia actually left the stage before Rosalind ran on again, convinced she’d heard Orlando call. This was even funnier because he was unable to speak in her presence, only managing a nervous laugh.

Once the ladies did finally leave, Le Beau came on to clear the ropes. Orlando helped her pick them up and put them on the trolley, and she swung the microphone away from her mouth to give him the warning about the Duke’s change of heart, adding to the atmosphere of menacing control in the court.

Rosalind and Celia had changed into dressing gowns for the next scene, and after a lively exchange which again showed us how close they were, the mood shifted when Duke Frederick came on and ordered Rosalind to leave the court altogether. Celia did her best to persuade her father to change his mind, but he refused. When he left, Rosalind screamed out loud and threw a hissy fit which included pulling up the front end of the green carpet and pulling it back to lie in a heap. Celia made her views clear, and with no sign of Rosalind being “more than common tall” – good choice – they soon had their no-deal Plan B up and running.

Slight rejigging of the order here, not unusual when they want to keep the court and forest separate, and especially when doubling the two Dukes. Next up, the lights were lowered for Orlando’s arrival back at his brother’s estate, where Adam warned him to leave immediately as his brother intended to kill him that very night. Orlando finally accepted Adam’s offer of service, and his five hundred crowns, and the pair set off together.

Back to the court, and with the lights still down, Le Beau came on stage, followed by the Duke and two men in great coats. While Frederick looked round the deserted room – the rumpled carpet was still there – Le Beau told him of the two women’s flight, and the Duke ordered that Oliver be brought to court. He remained on stage and stood there for a short while, unbuttoning his waistcoat, until Charles brought Oliver onto the balcony. Then came Act 3 scene 1, with the Duke using Charles’ strength to help interrogate Oliver by dangling him over the edge of the balcony. Oliver was terrified by all this, but still couldn’t tell the Duke where his brother was, and so he was sent to find him.

With the court scenes now finished, and those characters off stage, we heard a lot of cracking sounds as the curtain at the back came crashing down, revealing the stage behind. We could see through to the brick wall at the back, but the space wasn’t empty. A large circular shape stood behind the central balconies, and I wasn’t sure if it was made of wood or metal – possibly wood. It had vertical strips with gaps between them, and they were in various shades of blue and green giving a loose suggestion of foliage. Other than that, the space was clearly a stage, with lots of metal grids and stacked pallets. There was also a clothes rail which was wheeled out onto the front area so that the actors, who had done a fair bit of whooping and hollering as they rushed out from behind the fallen curtain, could change into their forest gear. Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone did this at the front, while Duke Frederick became his older brother further back, putting on a sheepskin jacket over his scruffy trousers and tatty pullover. The rest of the cast, who were already in costume, also wandered about, and there was a lot of chatter going on, more suggestive of a rehearsal space. This set up the more relaxed atmosphere of the forest very nicely, as well as giving everyone enough time to change costumes and prepare the forest for the next scene, including putting ladders from both sides of the stage up to the balcony.

Duke Senior made his opening speech from the centre of the stage (we’re back to Act 2 scene 1), with Amiens (Emily Johnstone) and a couple of other lords standing on the balcony listening to him. He took a stone out of his pocket and looked at it for “sermons in stones”, and went up one of the ladders to near balcony level to hear the news about Jacques, with Jacques herself (Sophie Stanton) coming on stage to say her (reported) lines. She had blood on her hands – literally – which seemed a bit unnecessary to me, and was wearing black trousers, a dark blue shirt with dark red braces, and a light brown coat with some kind of red decoration, possibly embroidered. It was an outfit both sombre and idiosyncratic, which suited the character well.

Having delivered her lines, she left, and the Duke with his company soon followed, in search of her. Rosalind arrived on the balcony, wearing dark trousers and a white gilet and carrying an axe, and was soon followed by Touchstone, who was now wearing a red jacket and towing a red wheely suitcase – this got a laugh. Celia was the last to stagger on, collapsing on the floor of the balcony as soon as she could. This left the stage to the young shepherdess Silvia (Amelia Donkor) and Corin (Patrick Brennan). Silvia wore a multi-coloured sun dress in pastel shades, while Corin was in traditional yokel gear – trousers, non-descript top and sheepskin jacket. Silvia’s unhappiness triggered a sympathetic response from Rosalind, which led to Touchstone’s description of his antics when he had been in love some time before. This was far and away the best rendering of these lines I have ever heard, and for once the humour came across really well.

While they spoke, Corin was sitting on the stage, munching on some snack, so it’s not surprising that Celia broke into the conversation with a request for food. Touchstone got Corin’s attention, and came down to the stage in a very funny way, lowering the suitcase down first and then dangling from the balcony, trying to use the suitcase as a step. Celia and Rosalind came down via the ladders, with Celia again collapsing in a heap at the bottom. She recovered quickly enough once gold was needed to pay for the shepherd’s cot, reaching under three layers of petticoats to get the bag of money out from some private stash – Corin looked away discretely at this point.

With this group off the stage, Amiens came on with some large cushions, and dropped them on the floor. She noticed the audience – we weren’t doing anything, honest – and sat down in the middle of the stage to sing Under The Greenwood Tree. Jacques came on to the balcony and stood there, listening to her, then came down for their little chat, slightly edited since there was no one else there. Amiens was putting out the cushions while they talked, then began the second verse, but Jacques took out her notebook, stopped the band and gave Amiens the new verse to sing. They both sang the “ducdame” bit, and at the end Amiens flounced off and Jacques left. Nicely done, but as perplexing as usual.

Orlando and Adam did their little scene on the balcony, with Orlando carrying Adam off at the end, and then Duke Senior came on stage with his cronies, having failed to find Jacques anywhere. The meal was brought on – a large pot of what turned out to be red liquid, placed in the middle with metal cans to drink from – and when Jacques did finally turn up she was clearly excited by her discovery of “a fool i’th’ forest”. She even used Touchstone’s Scottish accent when reporting what he said, and for once these lines got laughs. The Duke put his own coat on Jacques for her motley, but took it back later when he realised that she would misuse her role to abuse people. (I’ve only just realised this is an echo of Duke Frederick’s actions with Orlando and the boxing belt – a subtle touch.)

Orlando crashed the ‘feast’ wearing a cloth over his face like a bandit and brandishing a knife. He was one of the few characters who didn’t have to change clothes for the forest scene, as he ran off without a spare outfit. His aggression was met with calm concern, and a willingness to share the food, so he was soon back to normal. While he went to fetch Adam, Jacques gave us the famed Seven Ages Of Man speech, but in this production, “one [soul] in [their] time plays many parts”. Jacques indicated the Duke for the part of the judge, and they exchanged looks between them when she referred to the judge’s “fair round belly”, all quite joking. He was sitting on the walkway next to us, legs over the side, so we had a good view of this. Adam sat with the other lords while Amiens sang her song, and had recovered enough to join in by the end, with a very strong voice. I confess my eyes were moist at this point, with Duke Senior welcoming Orlando and Adam to the forest.

Once they left, Touchstone entered and came to the front of the stage, where he snuck into the audience to try and hide from Corin. No luck there, as Corin was up on the balcony, and could see him perfectly well. While the shepherd spread out some fleeces on the balcony rail, Touchstone, who had moved to stand below him, took out a notebook and read his initial lines from its pages. When he’d finished, and Corin responded with his own philosophical take on things, Touchstone began by jotting down the shepherd’s words, but soon realised there was nothing of value to record. Then they began their verbal sparring match. Touchstone put his hat and coat on Corin, and grabbed one of the fleeces from the balcony, burying his own face in it to demonstrate the similarity between sweat and grease: his reaction suggested he’d made a poor choice, which got a laugh (couldn’t see it very well as Corin was in the way) and then he put the fleece round his own shoulders. Corin took the rest of the skins down, putting them over his shoulder, and Touchstone chased him off stage.

Finally, the beginning of Act 3 scene 2. Orlando ran on at the back, and after acknowledging the presence of the audience, and the musicians, he got four people up from their seats and arranged them along the back of the stage, facing away from us. He then gave them a sheet of paper each, saying “hang there, my verse”, and as a glitterball descended from above, they turned round to display: “RO”,”SA”, ”LI”, “ND”. We applauded (we’re easily pleased). I’m not sure when the audience members left the stage, but Orlando continued on with his lines, noting down the best bits in his notebook, and finished with “the fair, the chaste, the unexpressive she”. Before we could get into applause mode, he announced “interval”, and it was.

Nothing much to tidy up in this production, so for the restart, Orlando came on to our left, handing out post-it notes to the audience as he went, before dashing off again. Rosalind followed him on, picking up the notes and reading out the verses as she came to the middle of the stage. Touchstone and Corin came on at the back, with Corin still wearing Touchstone’s red coat, and we even got a bit more audience participation, with Touchstone getting first Corin and then the audience to add the final “Rosalind” to his extra verses.

For Celia’s entrance, the audience participation went even further. She led on stage a man who was wearing a jacket covered in post-its, and, as Celia picked her way through the forest of yellow papers, she occasionally held up one for him to read out, which got him some applause. The others had scattered to hide and listen, with Rosalind on the balcony, Touchstone amongst the right-hand stalls (and eating something) and Corin somewhere else. When the poem finished, they came back on stage, and Corin helped Ken, the poem-wearer, off stage while Touchstone indicated applause – we obliged.

Touchstone also left the ladies alone, and they were soon discussing who had written the verses. Celia teased her cousin a little, but Rosalind, despite being unusually slow for once, soon learned that Orlando was in the forest. Some of her rapid-fire questions for Celia were addressed to the audience, and to answer them, Celia went to the back of the thrust, snapped her fingers, and was instantly in a spotlight with the other lights lowered. Rosalind stayed in the front right area, but kept interrupting Celia as she sang her story, causing her a great deal of annoyance. She tried again, snapping her fingers a second time for the spotlight, but it was no use. Rosalind simply wouldn’t be silenced by anything but the arrival of Orlando and Jacques.

When those two came on stage, clearly not happy in each other’s company, Rosalind hid below the stage on the right, while Celia knelt down and threw her skirts over her head, doing a reasonable impersonation of a rock. It was good enough for Jacques to attempt to sit on her – “will you sit down with me” – but the rock’s “oh” startled her, and she decided to stay upright. Earlier, Rosalind had almost come out of hiding when Jacques criticised her name, but Orlando’s defence of it kept her happy, and out of sight.

Rosalind stood up to deliver “do you hear, forester” in a loud voice to Orlando’s back, but she ducked back down again immediately so that his “very well. What would you” was said with a slightly puzzled air as he turned to find an empty space. She popped her head up again to continue their dialogue, joining him on the stage to explain the “divers paces” of time. Orlando enjoyed this fast-paced repartee, as did we, and when Rosalind introduced her sister, Aliena, Celia sat up from her rock-like pose to greet Orlando with a cheery “hello” – we laughed. A lot.

While Orlando continued to question Rosalind we could see that her plans were developing on the fly, as she did everything she could to build a relationship between Orlando and Ganymede. Their exchanges worked very well, and brought out both Orlando’s love-fuelled determination and her quick wit. Celia, meanwhile, stood back right by the ladder, and although she didn’t distract from the main conversation, we could tell from her reactions that she wasn’t best pleased by Ganymede’s comments about women. At some point, in response to Orlando’s words, Rosalind made a cross shape with her hands and did the klaxon-like “fail” sound, which made us laugh again. She snapped her fingers for the spotlight to deliver “he was to imagine me…”, and then they sat down, back to back in the circle of light while she explained her ‘method’. The spotlight was cleared as Orlando rose on “I would not be cured”, and they were quickly off stage, followed almost as quickly by Celia.

Touchstone came on from the left walkway, accompanied by Audrey (Charlotte Arrowsmith). Touchstone was wearing a sheepskin shrug over a shiny T-shirt and loose white leggings, while Audrey wore a red tartan overdress covering a dark blue petticoat, with a tool belt round her waist. As he passed along, Touchstone dished out glitter strips from a bag, and apparently the audience in the right hand stalls were Audrey’s goats – we laughed. (To be fair, so did the goats.)

At first, I thought Audrey looked confused – she probably was – but then I realised that she was being played by a deaf actress, and the character couldn’t follow Touchstone’s words properly. Touchstone brought on a young man (Tom Dawze) to do the necessary signing, and about this time Jacques also appeared on the balcony, observing.

One of the benefits of the signing was that it allowed for some extra levels to the dialogue. Touchstone’s comment about “casting away honesty upon a foul slut” was done as an aside, but the translator faithfully signed it, and Audrey wasn’t happy at all – extra laughs. Touchstone also tried some signing himself, which apparently came out as “you don’t like tea” – puzzling, but also very funny. Eventually Touchstone sat on the translator’s knee, and the translator’s hands did the signing for him.

Lady Olivia Martext (Karina Jones) arrived, wheeling on the clothes rail, and while Audrey browsed to find a wedding dress and Lady Olivia put on the peaked hat to match her splendid robes, Touchstone finished off his dialogue, speaking to the translator at the front of the stage. At first, the translator was going to give Audrey away, but then Jacques arrived, and after she and Touchstone did a hand routine in greeting, she persuaded him to have a proper wedding. Mind you, she did hit him on the head, so perhaps it wasn’t just her verbal persuasion that did the trick. Before he left, Touchstone paid Lady Olivia with more of the glitter from his pouch – she wasn’t impressed – and then he used her crozier as a microphone to sing his final lines to her. She wasn’t impressed with that, either.

When Celia and Rosalind came on again, Rosalind was shirtless, and Celia was binding her breasts. This activity distracted a bit from their dialogue, but it still came across OK. When Corin arrived, Celia held out her skirts to shield Rosalind while she hastily put her shirt back on. They quickly left to see the meeting between Phoebe and Silvia, and ‘hid’ in the audience again.

We had met Silvia earlier, and she was still in her summer dress, but this time carried a basket with some red flowers sticking out of it. Phoebe (Laura Elsworthy) wore a short blue skirt, a gold stomacher or basque with feather trim, and a long black wig. When Sylvia offered the flowers to Phoebe, she reacted with disgust, and threw them to the front of the stage, where they were caught by Rosalind. Sylvia took a couple of beer bottles out of the basket – any more goodies in there? – but there was no time to drink them as Rosalind came onto the stage to tell Phoebe where to go. Mind you, she spent a long time doing it, with Phoebe clearly smitten by the young ‘man’, and Silvia still hanging on for a kind word. After she left, Phoebe softened a little, and allowed Sylvia to take her hand as they left – Silvia was enraptured.

Jacques had appeared on the balcony as Phoebe finished her scene, and was ready to start the conversation with Rosalind when she and Celia came on stage. Rosalind climbed up one of the ladders for part of their exchange, and when Orlando came on, she was still there. Given his position, I missed some of her lines at first, but she soon came down so that they could do their verbal sparring match. After telling him off, she became more willing, putting on a red nose for “come woo me…”. I had the impression that she wasn’t just testing Orlando with all this pretence, but aiming to get him past any silly romantic ideas he may have, so that their relationship would be on a more solid footing, assuming she could become herself again.

Celia sat out their chat on the left walkway, where she borrowed a program to flick through. This led to her interrupting the others when she laughed out loud at something she read, but then she came forward briefly to do the marriage vows, returning the program to its owner. She went back to the walkway after it became clear she wasn’t needed, while Orlando and Rosalind knelt facing each other in the middle. After they spoke their vows, they kissed, but broke off with Orlando feeling a bit bemused and Rosalind all but overwhelmed. The remaining banter brought her back to herself, and the game continued, with Orlando promising to return after his service to the Duke.

During the sleep break, Jacques dragged on a deer skin, putting it on one of the Lords (Graeme Brookes) and tying a rope round his hands. They sang a song – I think it was the one in the text – and while it started off quite jolly, it became darker by the end, as the deer/man was led around by Jacques. This didn’t last long though, and they were soon off again, allowing Rosalind and Celia to return after their nap.

Rosalind was clearly disturbed by Orlando’s absence, but they were quickly distracted when Silvia ran on with a letter from Phoebe. As Rosalind read out the cruel words I, and Celia, felt sorry for Silvia, but I admit that Rosalind had a point. In any case, Oliver came on before Silvia left, and had exchanged glances with Celia before they spoke: she tweaked her bodice to smarten herself up. Oliver was carrying the “bloody napkin” with him, and caught Rosalind when she fell, but there was no discovery moment in this production. Oliver’s story was well told, and after (too) much protesting that her faint had been a counterfeit, Rosalind and the other two left the stage.

Touchstone and Audrey came on next, and this was where we found out that the ‘other man’ in this relationship, William, was none other than the young man who had been signing for them, and who was on stage to help them out for this scene as well. I’ve never felt so sorry for William before, nor seen how ungrateful Audrey was for rejecting someone who’d presumably learned to sign for love of her: she was clearly in the Phoebe mould.

With William repelled, and Touchstone and Audrey called away by Corin, Oliver wheeled on a sun bed for his scene with Orlando. Orlando’s arm was in a sling, but his sadness had little to do with his injury, being caused by his lack of Rosalind, of which his brother’s impending marriage was a sore reminder. Even Ganymede’s arrival couldn’t cheer him up, though he did look a bit hopeful when she talked of marrying him to Rosalind the next day.

Phoebe’s arrival, with Silvia in tow, led us into the ‘quartet’, in which Rosalind’s line “and I for no woman” was bizarrely changed into “and I for no Phoebe”. We’ve spoken to a number of people about this, and no one has a good word to say for it. Perhaps they were over-concerned about offending some people, but it jarred, and not just because it wasn’t the usual line; after all, there were plenty of other changes in this text which we liked.

This pulled the energy down a bit, but fortunately the next scene picked it up again. Touchstone returned with Audrey, and he was keen to indulge in some activity which wouldn’t be affected by his lack of signing ability. She was pretty keen as well, and the sun lounger looked a good prospect. Amiens interrupted their preliminary canoodling by throwing some petals over the couple, and insisted on singing them a song, joined by a few of the other forest inhabitants. While singing, their task was clearly to get the stage ready for the wedding, which meant removing the sun bed. The ground was Touchstone and Audrey’s next option, but those petals kept raining down and the singers kept singing, so they snuck over to the clothes rack, and were getting up close and personal behind it when someone wheeled it off. With nowhere else to enjoy themselves, they left, and the Duke came on with Orlando for their little chat: the rest of the group stood at the back.

After Ganymede’s brisk reprise of the various wedding arrangements, she left to get ready, while Touchstone and Audrey came on in their wedding costumes. Audrey was now in a lovely white dress, while Touchstone wore a long feathery coat over shaggy trousers, all in white. Jacques, who hadn’t dressed up for the occasion, introduced the Duke to Touchstone, and we scarcely had time for Touchstone’s reference to “country copulatives” – no mention of “the seventh cause” – before the final scene change.

I found this quite magical. While music played – there may have been singing as well – the disk at the back lifted up and a large shape was brought forward. Knowing the RSC’s recent predilection for various forms of puppetry, I soon realised this was a massive Hymen puppet: the head was face down as it came through the gap, and then it was lifted to reveal the upper half of a wooden statue, with long arms and hands on each side. The top of its head came up to the top balcony, and they just about managed to get the various bits attached to wires before the music/song ended.

At first, Hymen’s hands were in front of its stomach, but these opened up to allow Rosalind and Celia through. I was a little disappointed that Rosalind didn’t look more feminine at this point – she was basically Ganymede in a dress – but that didn’t spoil the fun. Orlando was hesitant to claim his bride at first, and we laughed when Hymen’s hand pushed him forward. Rosalind’s rejection of Phoebe was rendered pointless by the earlier change to Rosalind’s line, but they skipped nimbly through that bit and got on with the marriages.

The couples knelt down together for Hymen’s wedding comments, but just before the party could get going, another young man (Aaron Thiara as Jacques de Boyes) came through Hymen’s tummy to deliver the news of Duke Frederick’s abdication. The other Jacques made her excuses and left, signalling to Touchstone that she’d be keeping an eye on him.

And so to the dance. A merry rustic romp, it went on for some time, until the dancers formed a conga and spilled off at the back, leaving Rosalind alone on stage – oh good, we’re going to get the epilogue. Well, actually, we got part of the epilogue. No wine, no bush, and reduced appeals to women and men. A bit odd, but it worked OK, and we gave them plenty of applause when they came back on to receive it.

I’m pleased to report that not only was the dialogue delivered well throughout this performance, they also got good responses from the audience right from the start, with plenty of laughter at lines that have often passed by without a murmur in recent productions. This was a much more ‘fun’ production, emphasising the lightness and jokey nature of the play rather than stressing the darker aspects, although these weren’t neglected either. While some of the choices seemed strange, they didn’t impact the production enough to spoil our enjoyment, and since this is early in the run, we’re looking forward to seeing how this production comes on, especially as we have tickets to the understudy run in a few weeks.

© 2019 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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