As You Like It at the National Theatre
The Olivier Theatre now hosts Shakespeare’s comedy of love and change As You Like It, last seen at the National Theatre 36 years ago. It is safe to say that As You Like It is one of the bard’s most peculiar and challenging plays to stage, with its convoluted plotlines and wild woodland setting. However, Polly Findlay’s production brings a stunningly modern meaning to “all the world’s a stage”.
Rosalie Craig brings a glowing performance as the bold heroine Rosalind, as well as insightful, warm masculinity to her male counterpart, Ganymede. Patsy Ferran, as her ever-faithful cousin Celie, provides an excellent comic partner. She embodies thigh-slapping wit with overly expressive eyebrows in a pale blue gilet. Together the two flee the repressive court, escaping to the forest of tumultuous romance and political banishment.
Lizzie Clachan’s design pushes the boundaries of the versatility of the Olivier stage. A clinical, Google-style office is transformed into a grey, metallic wood in one of the most spectacular set changes the National has housed in years. The perfect symmetry and order of the pastel-coloured office ascended, forming a tangled mess of tables and chairs to create the dark wilderness of the Forest of Arden. This transformation was so impressive, that it not only warranted a rapturous applause, but also a small pause in the show by stage management to make some structural adjustments. After the quick interval the audience was left to wonder at the eerie, metallic jungle. Indeed, every visit to the National is a totally different experience, but Clachan’s set transports the audience to an entirely new realm, inverting Shakespeare’s famous notion, “all the world’s a stage”, to prove that the stage can house anything you can imagine.
It is not uncommon to attempt a modern adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays, but Polly Findlay’s production revitalises dated wit and historical eccentricity with fun and vitality. From a Lycra-clad Mexican wrestler turning a stoic office into a scene from Wolf of Wall Street, to a herd of “sheep” munching on leafy love letters wearing wool jumpers, Findlay’s genius brings an idiosyncratic work of Shakespeare up to date in a thrilling way. And the whole play is brilliantly fresh and natural with the Forest of Arden being brought to life with the harmonious humming and chirping of a scattered ensemble. It is a hilariously transformative experience of love and life.
Photo: Johan Persson
As You Like It is on at the Olivier Theatre from 26th October until 5th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for As You Like It here: