As You Like It
Sherman Players/RSC Open Stages
The commemoration of the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Shakespeare continues with this project, produced as part of the RSC’s Open Stages initiative which partners amateur performers with professionals.
In this case, playwright turned director Paul Jenkins marshalls the Sherman’s considerable technical resources and a cast drawn from the theatre’s over-18s drama group to present a wittily adventurous take on of the Bard’s more freewheeling comedies.
We begin on a factory floor, with an apple motif prominent. This sterile environment, where workers labour mechanically in white overalls, is overseen by Ash Heirani’s Oliver, who argues with brother Orlando—Sam Thorne—leading him to seek a more meaningful existence in the Forest of Arden.
It is here where he meets up with fellow exiles, Beshlie St Maur Thorp’s regal Rosalind and her supportive cousin Celia—Kirsty Campbell—falling instantly in love with the former.
Having watched him wrestle—his opponent is played by the WWE-styled Leighton Piper, although, sadly, we are spared the bout itself—Rosalind has fallen in love with him. Nevertheless, she sees fit to disguise herself as a man—the butch Ganymede—in order to test him.
Their love story is complicated by the involvement of more proletarian rural folk: shepherdess Phebe—Rebekah Dale—who becomes enamoured of Ganymede, and Tristan Dickinson’s Silvius, who is in love with her. This whole spectacle is watched over and commented upon by Meg Lewis’s cynical Jaques.
The forest is depicted as a pop-festival wonderland, courtesy of designer Deryn Tudor, lighting designer Ace McCarron and video projections provided by Gavin Hales. There are balloons, indie-music, dancing, and intimations of altered states of consciousness; the trippy, surreal atmosphere is enhanced by the periodic appearance of sheep, played by grass-chomping members of the ensemble in curly white wigs.
All of the performers acquit themselves admirably, although Thorp’s performance as Rosalind / Ganymede is particularly authoritative, with Campbell providing an effective comic foil, and Thorne a charmingly confused romantic interest.
Jenkins presents a stark contrast between the soulless, corporate environment which constitutes courtly life, in this interpretation, and the unbridled vibrancy of the Forest of Arden. Inhabitants of the former seem pale and prone to injury; Rosalind, however, seems to need her wheelchair less and less the longer she is exposed to nature.
The final revelation does seem to be slightly underplayed, as the many narrative strands are suddenly resolved and we hasten towards the celebratory conclusion. Nevertheless, this is a highly enjoyable, visually impressive update.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith