As You Like It at the Barbican
If we were to keep as much as we like of Kimberley Sykes’s Shakesperian production – as the epilogue prompts at the end of the play – we would save it all. The Royal Shakespeare Company inaugurates its London season with a bang, combining fun, colour and a measured pinch of metatheatrical rhetoric exploring life and actors on the world stage.
Forced to leave his house for fear of the murderous intentions of his older brother, Orlando (David Ajao) flees to the forest of Arden. Here, Rosalind (Lucy Phelps) also finds refuge along with her cousin Celia (Sophie Khan Levy), disguised respectively as Ganymede and his sister Aliena. The two maids have been banished by Celia’s father, Duke Frederick (Anthony Byrne). As a consequence, Rosalind decides to finally trace her exiled father, Duke Senior, who is said to have established a thriving community in that same wood. Orlando, though, doesn’t know that the friendly Ganymede on whom he is brushing up his wooing skills is actually his beloved Rosalind.
The play has the type of entangled plot that is typical of the Bard’s work, but the long runtime and bouncy pace make the piece flow seamlessly, keeping it entertaining throughout.
The office suits and the plain environment of the first few sequences are nicely contrasted with the later livelier setting and design. The meta-theatrical scenes are quite downplayed, sadly, but there is plenty to make up for it. Above all, it would be impossible not to mention the heavenly voice of Emily Johnstone as Le Beau. Lecy’s Celia, with all her moves and winks, is also exhilarating. And yet another female is the vehement driver of the whole play: Phelps’s portrayal is infectious, charged with humanity and utterly commanding. Also worth noting is Grierson, whose attire, among the rough nature and bland costumes of the rest of the cast, couldn’t stand out more. His Touchstone entertains from beginning to end.
The scantily dressed stage leaves freedom for the actors to extend the performance space – breaking that famous fourth wall – and engage with the audience. Their interactions, aptly handled and limited in number, keep the stalls thoroughly warmed up.
Combining well-delivered, uplifting lines and a vivacious company acting and interacting at a sustained rhythm, RSC’s As You Like It is a refreshing take on a classic play. The production is amusingly crafted, a merry and multi-faceted piece to savour and enjoy.
Photos: Topher McGrillis © RSC
As You Like It is at the Barbican from 26th October until 18th January 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.