Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

As You Like It

William Shakespeare
Peter Huntley Productions and W14 Productions
Southwark Playhouse

Harry Livingstone as Orlando and Sally Scott as Rosalind (as Ganymede) Credit: Robert Workman
Harry Livingstone as Orlando, Richard Albrecht as Old Adam and (rear) Joanna Hickman, Minal Patel and Samuel Townsend Credit: Robert Workman
Joanna Hickman as Phoebe and Samuel Townsend as Silvius Credit: Robert Workman
Simon Lipkin as Touchstone and Richard Albrecht as Corin Credit: Robert Workman
Steven Crossley as Duke Senior Credit: Robert Workman
Kaisa Hammarlund as Celia Credit: Robert Workman
Dominic Gerrard as Jacques Credit: Robert Workman

As You Like It is some people’s favourite play by Shakespeare. Not mine. I enjoyed Clifford Williams’s all-male production at the National and Cheek by Jowl's with Adrian Lester as Rosalind—interesting how the cross-gender casting made the play somehow work better—but I didn’t see Redgrave in Michael Eliot’s Stratford staging, or any RSC ones for that matter, and instead too many that have been mediocre at best that have coloured my judgement.

That said, I have to applaud this inventive production by director Derek Bond. It won’t make AYLI my favourite, but I really enjoyed it and do recommend it. There been some tactful cutting, a couple of minor characters excised and one intriguing recasting, but nothing that doesn’t fit the mood and story to make all “as you like it”.

Bond and his designer Emma Bailey have come up with a very simple image, showered with colour, that is gorgeous and works splendidly. I can’t describe how because that would spoil its surprises if you are going to see it. I guessed at what might happen from what I saw when first taking my seat—and was right, but never envisaged just how extravagantly beautiful it was going to be.

Next, there is the lovely musical element: the songs composed by Jude Obermüller, sung and played by the cast with musical director Joanna Hickman on the cello and Samuel Townsend on guitar, led by the voice of Minal Patel.

Thirdly, there is one of the most successful pieces of Shakespearean clowning that I have ever seen: Simon Lipkin’s Touchstone. This Touchstone is a real entertainer.

Then there is Sally Scott’s Rosalind. She doesn’t grab the attention in her first scenes—it is Kaisa Hammarlund’s cousin Celia who seem more vivaciously charismatic—but with bosoms bound down and in male dress she suddenly has masculine confidence and, making Rosalind work hard to pretend manhood, somehow has much the same quality as if she was a boy actor, though it is clear she is not.

Indeed, when Rosalind disguised as Ganymede tutors Harry Livingstone’s Orlando on love, that grin on his face suggests that he has seen through the pretence—and Rosalind probably knows that, but they both decide to play along with it.

Samuel Townsend plays Le Beau as a bit of an arse-licking courtier and gives Silvius a gormlessness over love that belies his sharp, rustic intelligence. Richard Albrecht’s country-wise Corin has a contrasting double as loyal Old Adam who goes with Orlando into the Forest of Arden.

Steven Crossley’s exiled Duke, whom Orlando finds with his followers in the forest, is humanely gentle, to contrast with his playing of the usurping brother Frederick, who banished him. There are sharply differentiated doubles too from Minal Patel as wrestler Charles and Amiens, a gentle follower of the Duke, and from Dominic Gerrard as Orlando’s bad brother and the melancholy philosophic Jacques.

Gerrard even manages to make Jacques' cataloguing of man’s ages seem freshly thought of; he is a kindly but disturbing shadow among the simple joy of Shakespeare’s happy ending.

Shakespeare makes Joanna Hickman’s countrywoman Phebe quote Marlowe’s line, “who ever loved that loved not at first sight?” and this production embraces that simplicity. Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver and even Audrey are big-eyed and drop-jawed on their first encounters and Touchstone and his Audrey could not be more closely connected.

This Touchstone could not be more manipulative nor Audrey more sheepish—and that’s as far as I can go without it being another spoiler.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet charges clowns to keep to what’s written for them but he can’t have meant that to be a straight-jacket and Lipkin’s Touchstone is a lively descendant of Thomas Kemp and Richard Tarlton with his manipulative drollery. He illuminates Shakespeare’s rather self-conscious word play with conjuring tricks, replaces one character with a puppetry impersonation and adeptly turns an audience member into a character with a spot of impro, yet he always remains part of the ensemble and stays in context even when adding metatheatrical moments, miming scenery that isn’t there.

As You Like It begins with the cruelty of people to each other but the play, especially in this production, ends in joyful celebration to send everyone home happy.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton