As You Like It Review of RSC at The Barbican
PUBLISHED: 14:08 31 October 2019
A fresh, hilarious and gender-blind modern take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy of love and trust
Most comedy is no longer funny 400 years after it was written.
It takes an imaginative director like Kimberly Sykes to present it with the freshness and hilarity that it inspired in 17th century audiences. She is supported by Betta Gerecke's innovative lighting design, which maintains the link with the Shakespeare's day by including the audience in the performance, so it seems quite natural when actors address us directly.
On the other hand, the challenging set (Stephen Brimson Lewis) is pure 21st century.
The production sticks - more or less - to the original story about the loves and lusts, quarrels and cruelties, of Dukes and Jesters, sons and Daughters who, accustomed to luxurious, corrupt courtly life, find themselves, for a variety of reasons, among the poor simple folk of the Forest of Arden.
Here, in harsh conditions, they come to realise the value of true friendship, trust and love (a strong message for contemporary society). After a series of complicated and hilarious sub-plots, they all forgive each other and (mostly) get married and (presumably) live happily ever after.
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Here, the wedding scene is presided over by a giant puppet, which, under the direction of Mervyn Millar, appears at once powerful and benign - make of that what you will.
All this takes place in a 20t Century where people dye their spikey hair green or purple and wear eccentric clothes in fantastical styles and colours.
They leap and sing and dance, twist themselves into unlikely shapes as though performing in some ethereal circus. Simultaneously, they are serious - they fall desperately in love, they care for each other, they suffer.
Sexual orientation is largely irrelevant: the melancholy Jacques (an impressive Sophie Stanton) is female; the friendship between Rosalind, played with sensitivity and intelligence by Lucy Phelps, and the apparently frivolous but loyal Celia (Sophy Khan Lev) is as important as the love affair between Rosalind and the charming but somewhat dim Orlando (David Ajao).
Love is love, joyful and painful, whatever the gender whatever the century.
Until January 2020, (and on tour until 2020}
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