As You Like It
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Karen Archer – Le Belle/Second Page
Cliff Burnett – Duke Senior
Kiza Deen – Second Forest Lord
Daniel Easton – Dennis/Duke Frederick’s Lord
David Fielder – Adam
Dave Fishley – Sir Oliver Martext
Michael Grady-Hall – Silvius
Rosie Hilal – Audrey/Hisperia
Mark Holgate – Charles The Wrestler/William/Duke Frederick’s Lord
Joanna Horton – Celia
Chris Jared – Jaques de Boys /Amiens
Natalie Klamar – Phoebe
Pippa Nixon – Rosalind
Luke Norris – Oliver
Oliver Ryan – Jaques
Robin Soans – Corin
John Stahl – Duke Frederick
Samuel Taylor – First Forest Lord/First Page
Nicolas Tennant – Touchstone
Alex Waldmann – Orlando
Saturday 4th May 2013, matinee
Directed by Maria Aberg
We tend to stay over and see two plays at Stratford, this time it was Hamlet, which had been my companion’s first Stratford play in 1965, and As You like It, which had been mine, in the John Caird production in 1989. It followed his marvellous Midsummer Night’s Dream, and was deeply disappointing in comparison.
Richmal Crompton’s William books were written for adult women initially, not for children, and the joy of them was the humorous portrayal of well-to-do village life between the 1920s and 1950s. Like Crompton herself in real life, the cast were keen on amateur theatricals, especially William’s older sister, Ethel, and As You Like It was the usual choice. They squabbled and sulked over the role of Rosalind, dressing up as a boy in theatrical tights was the star part everyone wanted. This reflects the high popularity of the play in the period, though I have to say I’d never seen a production of it that knocked me out. In contrast, I’ve not seen a Midsummer Night’s Dream nor a Comedy of Errors that I haven’t enjoyed.
Maria Aberg’s concept here is making the Forest of Arden a Glastonbury Festival setting. This is why the couple are mud-spattered on the posters and programme cover … though these are not actors from the play, nor does anyone get that muddy in the play. The programme talks about rock festivals, but my reaction was Greenham Common camp site, which is why they have an old seat from an Austin Mini, and an old fridge on the set.
Let’s start on the review. We spent two hours discussing this production driving home. We placed it up there with David Warner in Hamlet, Peter Brooks Midsummer Night’s Dream, John Caird’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Kevin Spacey’s Richard III. i.e,. one of our five favourite all-time Shakespeare productions. Yes, that good. Most productions have a weak spot, i.e. we loved the RSC’s recent Taming of The Shrew, but didn’t like the portrayal of Petruchio. The Winter’s Tale, RSC 2012? Brilliant concept, but however well you do it, the play is intrinsically teetering between starting as a tragedy, ending as a comedy. This production didn’t have any weak links, and more so, it recycled much of the same cast as Hamlet, most of whom had got somehow lost behind the quirky geeky lead role in that production. All of the actors were superb here, proving the importance of the director in creating the frame for actors to excel.
The central figures, Rosalind and Orlando, are played by Pippa Nixon and Alex Waldmann, who will be the major theatre stars of the next two decades. We saw Waldmann in the Donmar Warehouse Hamlet with Jude Law, and as Sebastian in Twelfth Night with Derek Jacobi. His Laertes in Hamlet was so good in the fight scenes, that it’s a surprise to see him as a low-key Horatio in the 2013 RSC production, but he was saving energy for Orlando. I admit, I hadn’t remembered his name until I Googled and realized he’d been in the Donmar productions, but I did remember him as soon as I saw the pictures. We saw Pippa Nixon as Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as Dorothea in Cardenio. We’re still cursing that we never got tickets to see her in Maria Aberg’s King John last year.
One reviewer, who had seen more As You Like Its than I have, said Pippa Nixon was the best Rosalind ever. I’ve seen far fewer, but can’t imagine how she could be bettered. Celia (Joanna Horton)? She had wonderful interaction with Rosalind, and her facial reactions throughout were a treat. Phoebe? Audrey? Great. Having four such good female comedy roles is no doubt why the play appealed to the 1930s amateur theatricals described by Crompton.
The two hardest parts to play are Jacques and Touchstone, both brilliant here. Shakesperean pun-laden clowns are so hard to do in modern production, but they show how to do it in a master class. Touchstone is dressed like Max Wall, with the addition of a red nose. That doesn’t sound promising, but it works. The festival / hippy setting made sense of Jacques, who is otherwise hard to make sense of. We meet him doing lone idiot dancing to the band and singing. The silent scene at the start of the second half with Touchstone and the Shepherd, was physical comedy silent acting of the highest order. Touchstone’s audience interaction was great stand-up.
Then add a band, and a folky musical score written by Laura Marling. After Jon Boden’s music for The Winter’s Tale, it indicates the RSC knows its Nu-folk artists, and the use of excellent modern folk writers is a major boost. With Boden and Marling, and probably more to come, I wonder when the “RSC Music 2012-2013” CD will appear in the RSC shop.
(ADDED NOTE: It hasn’t, but the soundtrack is on iTunes. The link below is to Under The Greenwood Tree on YouTube with a play trailer).
The physical work excels, from Orlando fist-fighting his brother, Oliver, to Orlando’s incredibly realistic bare-knuckle brawl with the wrestler to the dancing. Early on, the whole court conducts a ritual hand dance behind the action, a kind of slow motion finger-tutting. It’s carefully choreographed, so that Rosalind starts moving in the opposite direction to the rest. The exuberant dancing at the end brings tears of sheer pleasure to the eyes … you just don’t want it to stop.
Pippa Nixon as Ganymede
Orlando and Rosalind bring a sparkle of powerful attraction to their roles. Nixon is a convincing boy dressed as Ganymede (with sock stuffed down the front of her trousers), and you see the levels of confusion as they “act out” the love scenes and Orlando finds himself … strangely moved. They convey the lovers so well, that you actually feel relieved and pleased when they finally get together … then you think, ‘Hang on … this is As You Like It … I already knew the ending.’
During the final dance there are claps of thunder and they get rained on from the sprinklers. Here it makes sense … the sudden thunderstorm / belting rain is a given for rock festivals from Woodstock to Glastonbury. One of the biggest ever rock festivals was Watkins Glen in 1973 with The Grateful Dead and The Band, and that had a spectacular storm during The Band’s set, which Levon Helm described as “like a cow pissing on a flat rock,” a piece of rural argot that would have appealed to Phoebe here. They’re using the same stage in repertory with Hamlet, where the sprinklers and rain at the end made no sense at all. I’d guess they were installed for As You Like It, and they thought they might as well use them twice.
Lots. Much of it unnecessary, but the Jamaican rasta with joint is very funny.
ALEX WALDMANN IN THIS BLOG
The Duchess of Malfi – 2014 by John Webster, Wanamaker Playhouse (Antonio Bologna)
As You Like It, RSC 2013 (Orlando)
Al’s Well That Ends Well, RSC 2013 (Bertram)
Hamlet, RSC 2013 (Horatio)
Richard III, RSC 2012 (Catesby)
Wars of The Roses: Henry VI, Rose Kingston (Henry VI)
Wars of The Roses: Edward IV, Rose Kingston (Henry VI)
Wars of The Roses: Richard III, Rose Kingston (Tyrell)
King John, The Globe 2015 (The Bastard)