Katy Stephens in As You Like It
Katy Stephens, Jonjo O'Neill, Mariah Gale
This Royal Shakespeare Company production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It may have been first
performed almost two years ago now, but relocated to Camden’s Roundhouse it remains fresh, funny and just a little odd.|
In the opening court scenes, though – when brothers Orlando and Oliver bicker, and the usurping
Frederick keeps an untrusting eye on Rosalind, the daughter of overthrown Duke Ferdinand – there
is a surprisingly sombre tone.
The courtiers all wear constricting, whale-boned, funereal black and
Frederick’s temper seems ready to boil over at any moment. He had originally kept Rosalind in his
kingdom because of her companionship with his daughter Celia, but when he finally decides that she
must go the way of her father, his threat that she will be killed if she ever returns does not appear to
be an idle one.
Set against this all of this atmosphere of oppression is the shimmering lightness and joy in that very
relationship; this production has many excellent qualities, but the chemistry and banter between
Rosalind (Katy Stephens) and Celia (Mariah Gale) is by far and away its most striking. Their dialogue
zips along apace, back and forth in a natural way that convinces you that they have indeed spent
their entire childhood together. Like the fast-talking leads in a buddy movie, they are thick as thieves
and very, very witty.
Stephens’ Rosalind is wonderful – strong and erudite one moment, and not just while she is dressed
as a man to stay safe in the Forest of Arden, and all blushing girlishness the next. Gale, meanwhile,
impressively manages to make Celia one of the play’s most interesting and entertaining characters.
In fact, they are such fun that sometimes you can’t help but miss them when they’re not on stage,
with some of the forest scenes, among the exiled Duke’s faithful supporters, for example, or the
Shepherd Silvius and his Pheobe, feeling sluggish in comparison.
Jonjo O’Neill too, as Orlando, is a little outshone at first, but becomes infinitely more interesting
as his frustrated love for Rosalind becomes more desperate. In the court, defined by his poverty at
the hands of his mean brother, he is rather over-earnest; as the lover, he is more akin to a mopey
teenager who doesn’t quite know what to do with himself now that he knows the pain and pleasure
associated with love. And he is much more likable for it.
The oddness in this production comes from Richard Katz as the court fool Touchstone, and Forbes
Masson as the ‘melancholic’ Jaques. Touchstone here has wild, mad professor-like hair and is an
unusually pensive fool (until he is distracted by the charms of goatherd Audery at least) while
Jaques – in one of the most intriguing and memorable performances of the night – is made not just
melancholy by experience, but really quite cynical and bitter. Intriguingly, he spits his way almost
angrily through the famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech, but – long-haired and kohl-eyed – he
becomes calm and reflective when he sings.
There are moments when this production loses momentum, but in the main it is very funny with
hints of real menace, and best of all has a sparkling and believable double-act at its core.