“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”
Director Kimberly Sykes invites us into the Forest of Arden for her riotous new production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The first production of their 2019 season promises an exciting year ahead at the Royal Shakespeare Company with a stellar cast and crew and unique creative vision.
As You Like It is a convoluted amalgamation of family disputes and various love stories which occur across the Forest of Arden. The central love story is that of Rosalind (Lucy Phelps) and Orlando (David Ajao) and another 3 romantic tales provide a mixture of comedic relief and food for thought. For a story of such age, this production surprisingly tackles gender norms and sexuality remarkably well. Unfortunately though, this fiendishly complex play proves confusing and difficult to follow at times. Whilst the modernisation of the play feels exciting and fresh it seems to make this already confusing story increasingly unfathomable.
The production feels very much like a team effort with each member of this stellar company playing relatively equal parts – always a joy to witness. Having said that, Lucy Phelps’ performance as Rosalind is truly deserved of leading lady status with bounds of charm, enthusiasm and wit. The entirety of the company is encouraged to interact with the audience throughout the production and do so tremendously well, bringing the action out into the stalls and even pulling the audience up onto stage for a few pre-interval laughs.
There is a huge focus on the ‘visible audience’ within this production – exploring the fluidity between the relationship with the audience and actors. The ‘fourth wall’ is completely broken down with the house lights remaining up for the majority of the performance, the constant audience interaction and the glimpse ‘backstage’ (which was quite frankly a little bewildering). Together these things make this production feel engaging and immersive. Of course the final epilogue delivered brilliantly by Rosalind directly recognises the audience’s presence and invites them to think what they like of the production whether they enjoyed just a little or the whole lot.
With fantastic new direction this complex story is beautifully retold on the Royal Shakespeare stage. Although difficult to follow at times, the production is immersive, light hearted and displays an exceptional array of talent. A promising taste of whats to come this season at the RSC.
For tickets and information head to the Royal Shakespeare Company Website.
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