As You Like It
Royal Shakespeare Company
In this belated transfer of the 2009 Stratford production, the RSC's Artistic Director enthusiastically plays up the low comedy in Shakespeare's text and, when the mood takes him, which is often, even gives it a helping hand.
The result is a fresh, highly amusing evening that should please all, though romantics may feel that the love element is underplayed as a consequence.
It therefore makes sense to concentrate initially on the play's two comic mainstays, each of whom excels. Richard Katz as Touchstone is accoutred in a straitjacket and bondage trousers, together with a clown's shoes and wild, Einsteinian hair. He rarely misses the chance to get a laugh, whether with word or gesture, even doing so as straggling audience members return from the interval.
His challenger in the comic stakes is a melancholy but strangely loveable Forbes Masson in the role of Jaques, who looks the spit of Bill Bailey but sounds more like another Bill(y) - Connolly. He sings beautifully and ensures that the naturalistically delivered seven ages of man speech oozes emotion and humanity.
In a subsidiary role, Sophie Russell as Audrey also keeps the humour levels at a peak with some lovely slapstick moves, at one point hilariously tottering on white high heels like a drunkard imitating a baby giraffe.
With virtually no set, beyond a wall of white panels at the end of the thrust, other effects are needed to set the scene. At court, traditional costumes, all black, provide a sense of nobility which is belied by the remarkable ferocity of a fight staged expertly by the doyen of the art, Terry King.
That heralds the expulsion of a trio who bridge the two worlds of As You Like It, swiftly arriving in a more modern dress Forest of Arden, where a hedge of dead twigs becomes a worthy, if lonely adornment and prop.
The central threesome work well together. Jonjo O'Neill is a fresh-faced, brave but unusually hip Orlando. He falls instantly for the soon to be exiled Rosalind.
In this role, Katy Stephens starts off girlishly, possibly too much so, then really comes into her own in the impassioned speeches that she delivers wearing the breeches as Ganymede.
This pair have their work cut out in playing with Mariah Gale, who was so good as Juliet before Christmas. She is fast becoming an actress to watch, even in a subsidiary part such as Rosalind's cousin and best friend Celia. Miss Gale is full of youthful exuberance and has the facial control and innate ability to convey vast amounts with a tiny gesture shared by the very best.
Put together with some song, dance and weird fertility rites, this combination delights for three hours in a production that is as light and witty as As You Like It is ever likely to get.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher