As You Like It is one of my absolute favourite Shakespeare plays. It’s got everything you could possibly want from the Bard: cross-dressing, songs, dances, and there’s even a lion. I saw a cracking version at Shakespeare’s Globe last summer, which was everything As You Like It should be, but this production is very different. Where the Globe’s production was a full-blow summer romp, Polly Findlay’s Arden is far bleaker, but nevertheless there is still a real warmth to the production; mainly due to the astonishing set design.
Don’t get me wrong, this show is excellent, but for me there will never be a better Rosalind than Michelle Terry, and I felt the chemistry between the cross-dressing heroine and Celia was sometimes lacking in this new production. Rosalie Craig’s Rosalind occasionally seemed to lack affection for Patsy Ferran’s Celia, but I think this may stem from the excellent decision to play Celia as more than just Rosalind’s yes-woman, and otherwise the performances from both are superb. Ferran is, as always, a delight, and Paul Chahidi is generally very funny (but I didn’t like the way he played the seven ages of man speech), and I definitely fell a little bit in love with Joe Bannister as Orlando – as one should.
Lizzie Clachan’s design is astonishing – there is a truly magical moment as Duke Frederick’s court (or office in this case) is transformed into the Forest of Arden, and one is simply blown away by the capabilities of the Olivier stage. The use of chorus to create the sounds of the forest (think birds, crackling fires, wolves, wind, etc.) is so clever and so effective, and the music, composed by Orlando Gough, is simply wonderful.
At only £5 via the National Theatre’s Entry Pass scheme, it was exceptionally good value – I got the ticket the night before, and I was right in the middle of the stalls, so I had an incredible view. The scheme is only available for 16-25 year olds (sorry proper adults), but is well worth joining. You can bring a mate for only £7.50 more, and you get access to exclusive workshops and platforms, as well as a discount in the shop and restaurants.
Although not as sunny as the Globe’s summer rom-com vision of Arden, this As You Like It is one that reminds us of the staggering possibilities of theatre and stage design. And also reminds us that Patsy Ferran is goals.
And here is the trailer:
All photos Johan Persson via National Theatre website.