Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

As You Like It

William Shakespeare
Wyndham's Theatre
(2005)

This inventive new production of As You Like It does not seem quite sure of what it is trying to be. There must be suspicion that the goals of director David Lan, in the West End while the Young Vic is being refurbished, and lead producer Sonia Friedman may not have been quite the same.

Lan's stylish new version is set in France during the Second World War and benefits from the work of designer Richard Hudson. He presents appealing costumes that reach their peak in the final scene and a simple set with more and more layers removed, like an onion until the final bosky backdrop is eventually reached.

Central to Lan's view is the relationship between Rosalind and Orlando played by the two stars of the performance, Helen McCrory and Dominic West.

While Miss McCrory is used in the publicity material, most of the fuss has centred around the stage debut of the rather lightweight Sienna Miller playing Rosalind's "pretty little coz", Celia. The young film actress was responsible for difficulties in entering the theatre as the paparazzi mobbed her boyfriend and fellow Alfie star, Jude Law.

Having started off on the trail of selling tickets through the use of star names, the cast is then supplemented by two comedians: Sean Hughes as Touchstone struggles to get his lines out audibly and eventually succumbs to gabbling, a fault shared by Miss Miller during a very nervous opening.

Far more successful is Reece Shearsmith from the League of Gentlemen playing Jaques (given a French pronunciation). He has good stage presence and provides an unusual rendering of the All World's a Stage speech.

The other potential draw is musical star Clive Rowe, playing Duke Senior. Unsurprisingly, he is at his best when singing. His every appearance is marked by an opportunity to do so, to a jazzy accompaniment provided by a quartet led by expert accordionist, Lisa-lee Leslie and often seen on stage.

The French staging works and might well have followed Shakespeare's intention, as there is currently some debate as to whether the play was really set in the Forest of Arden or the Forest of Ardennes. The duplicity within families shown by so many characters and in particular Nigel Richards' Duke Frederick and Andrew Woodall's Oliver fits perfectly in occupied France during wartime.

Miss McCrory, who did so well around the corner at the Donmar in Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya, is absolutely outstanding as Rosalind, never more so than when she wittily becomes the "relatively" masculine Ganymede. Her emotional performance reaches its height as the boy/girl literally whimpers with sexual frustration because she cannot throw herself on her beloved Orlando.

The feelings are reciprocated by the gentleman and Dominic West's hero deservedly wins the lady after both mental and physical battering, not to mention an episode of falling for the all too pretty boy.

After many machinations, the happiest of happy endings is achieved as the bad become good or monks and every loose end is tied up with no fewer than four happy marriages to bring down the final curtain at the end of a varied but not wholly successful three hours.

There are special offer tickets for BTG readers available until 25th June.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher