As You Like It @ Novello Theatre, London

cast list
Lia Williams
Amanda Harris
Barnaby Kay
Paul Chahidi
Jonathan Newth
Joseph Mydell
John Mackay
Jamie Ballard
Caitlin Mottram
Meg Fraser
David Rogers
Gurpreet Singh
Trystan Gravelle
Edward Clayton
Peter Bygott
Patrick Waldron
Sally Tatum
Miles Richardson

directed by
Dominic Cooke
Dominic Cooke’s gently entertaining production of As You Like It marks the close of the RSC’s current London season of Comedies. It’s been an interesting run; though things kicked off with a somewhat misjudged Twelfth Night this was more than made up for by a rather glorious Midsummer Night’s Dream. Standards remain high for Cooke’s closer.

With its regular eruptions into song, its deer-hunts and lion maulings, As You Like It can be a difficult one to pitch. Memories of David Lan’s frothy Gallic staging in the West End are still fresh and, initially, Cooke’s production can’t match its glossy confidence.

As Rosalind and Celia, Lia Williams and Amanda Harris, look rather ill at ease in their finery and, prior to the interval, the proceedings only really come to life in a superbly choreographed fight scene between Barnaby Kay’s dashing Orlando and the wrestler, Charles.

Thing start to warm up in the longer second half. Williams seems to relax as Rosalind once the character divests herself of her jewels and gowns and disguises herself as Ganymede.

Lan’s lightweight As You Like It won over its audience principally on the back of Helen McCrory’s cool, self-confident turn in the role. Williams goes in the opposite direction; hers is an endearingly gawky Rosalind, with a more than a dash of principal boy. As Ganymede she is less dapper chap, more scrappy schoolkid, complete with stripy socks, braces and an oversized shirt. It’s all you can do not to leap on stage and tuck it in for her.

She is backed by some fine ensemble acting. Purely through facial expressions and sound comic timing, Amanda Harris elevates her supporting role into something quite special. Her bespectacled Celia is sniffily superior and altogether more with it than Rosalind.

Paul Chahidi makes a top Touchstone, particularly in the scenes with his squawking Audrey (Meg Fraser). Joseph Mydell makes a curiously flamboyant but ultimately agreeable Jacques. And Cooke employs the nice touch of having both Duke Frederick and the usurped Duke Senior played by the same actor, Jonathan Newth.

Rae Smith’s set design is simple but effective and sees the Forest of Arden represented by one giant tree, into the branches of which the cast occasionally clamber. Dominating the stage, it serves multiple purposes; twinkiling fairylights dot its upper limbs and later Orlando pins his poetic outpourings onto its overhanging branches.

This is, in many ways, an old-fashioned As You Like It but, though it takes a while to get into full flow, by the time Rosalind delivers her epilogue you will almost certainly be smiling.

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