I’m not entirely sure I was prepared for this show before seeing it.
I confess, I hadn’t actually read this play or even a synopsis prior to purchasing my programme on my way into the theatre. But in addition to that, I wasn’t prepared for it being a modern setting, or even that the cast would be onstage as the audience entered the theatre.
So I walked through the doors to be greeted with a bright and quietly bustling office scene, with workers at desks, making notes, typing things, walking over to the shredder, having quiet discussions with colleagues. It made for an odd fifteen minutes as people were finding seats, but made for an effective start to the show when the bell rang and the workers scattered off home.
As You Like It tells the story of Rosalind, the daughter of a banished Duke, who is then banished by the same person who exiled her father – but not before meeting a young lad Orlando, himself the son of nobility and brother to the rather selfish heir to their father’s fortunes. In his quest to seek a better life for himself, he manages to rile the wrong people and is forced to flee for safety. In true Shakespearean style, these coincidences begin to add up and they stumble across each other in the forest, only with Rosalind in male disguise, Orlando does not recognise her but speaks poetically about his lost love. Rosalind, as her assumed identity of Ganymede, then decides to test Orlando’s love for her each day by offering to “cure” Orlando of his affliction.
It’s not overly hard to see where this goes, but the journey is very enjoyable nonetheless. There are some great comic moments in the play, mainly through Rosalind’s straight-talking and through Jacques the melancholic’s bleak take on life.
With an outstanding performance by Rosalie Craig, as Rosalind/Ganymede, it is hard not to absolutely adore the character she plays. It might just be my favourite female part in Shakespeare that I have seen performed, and whilst that will be down in some part to Shakespeare’s witty writing and well-rounded characterisation in Rosalind, it is Craig’s performance that really brings life to the character. So understated but entirely believable and perfectly delivered.
The production features one of the most visually stunning set changes mid-way through – no spoilers here, but the transformation from the office dwellings of the city to the Forest of Arden is something that has to be seen to be believed. It is fairly impressive that with such a modern setting the Shakespearean dialogue does not feel out of place, but more impressive is how natural an atmosphere is created within the forest of suspended fixtures and fittings – here, the ensemble can be found lurking amongst the tangled mess mimicking all aspects of nature to great effect.
In addition to Rosalie’s outstanding performance, notable mention goes to Paul Chahidi as Jacques and Patsy Ferran as Rosalind’s sidekick, Celia. The strong chemistry between the two women are the core strength of the production and help show the audience the inner machinations of Rosalind’s mind.
As You Like It is showing until the end of February, with a live screening across the UK on 25th February. I strongly urge you to go and see this wonderful cast – sit back, be transported to the faraway Arden, and listen to the dulcet tones of Fra Fee as he sings his a capella folk songs to the forest.