As You Like It

William Shakespeare
Nottingham Theatre Royal and Touring
(2003)

It's astonishing to think that Sir Peter Hall has never tackled As You Like It before in his long, distinguished career as a director. That may be because he's not had the right actors available to him - or he might not have been able to fit it into his extremely busy schedule.

Over the years directors have struggled with this rustic comedy which Shakespeare wrote just before some of his major works including Hamlet and Twelfth Night. While Sir Peter didn't have difficulty transferring the play from page to stage, parts of his interpretation seem baffling or even ordinary.

As You Like It depends on getting the right chemistry between not only Rosalind and Orlando but also Rosalind and Celia. While individual performances are good, the relationships in this production lack intensity and heat.

Hall's daughter Rebecca takes the lead; her Rosalind rarely convinces you "how many fathom deep I am in love" and she lacks the passion the part calls for. As she made her professional theatre debut only last year, perhaps this is too big a role for her at such an early stage of her career.

Joseph Millson doesn't let Orlando become a wimpish character and becomes extremely angry when necessary. But you never get the impression that he and Rosalind will be happy ever after.

Diminutive Rebecca Callard, dwarfed by Hall, slips effortlessly into the role of Celia and gives a sparkling performance. But you rarely get the impression that she and Rosalind are close enough for them to suffer the changes which will totally disrupt their lives.

Sir Peter Hall has chosen to bring out the darker elements of the play. Duke Frederick's court is a foreboding place and Arden is a cold, cheerless forest where anyone wouldn't want to spend a second longer than necessary.

Some of the humour which usually surfaces in the play is lost - but it's not all gloom. Philip Voss is a splendid Jacques; you could omit the character completely from some productions I've seen, but this veteran with his booming voice makes the most of his melancholy.

Michael Siberry does a good job with Touchstone, earning laughs with his wacky costume as well as his disposition; Nigel Pegram, who has replaced Eric Sykes, does a fine job as old Adam and the drunken clergyman Sir Oliver Martext; and David Yelland is convincing as both the usurping duke Frederick and the banished Duke.

The wrestling scene is chillingly realistic, with groans and posturing worthy of a Saturday afternoon television bout although it ends somewhat unsatisfactorily.

It's unfortunate that this production should be in Nottingham only five weeks after the R J Williamson company put on a magical, happy version of As You Like It at the city's castle. That must have been the main reason why a number of seats at the Theatre Royal were empty.

Sir Peter Hall's version, while good in parts, is a bit of a disappointment and has nothing new to say. It's more that you tolerate it rather than as you love it.

"As You Like It" tours until September 27th before transferring to America

Reviewer: Steve Orme