Magazine article The Spectator

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Magazine article The Spectator

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Article excerpt

As You Like It

Swan Theatre, Stratford

Stratford emerges from winter hibernation with an As You Like It that. not inappropriately, takes a chill view of this uneasy comedy. And this is certainly a welcome corrective to the RSC's previous effort, a mere two years ago, in which the Forest of Arden was a Liberty's bazaar for the display of luxuriant knitwear in the style of Kaffe Fassett.

This sort of thing tends to happen when there's a desire to duck the melancholic view of love that pervades the text. Rosalind's strategy is to enjoy it - for as long as she can - by playing games with her Orlando, but even she suspects that love may be merely a madness. No, it will never do to lay an exotic carpet over a forest so rich in the spiny hawthorns and brambles to which Orlando entrusts his odes and elegies to his beloved.

In his directorial debut with the RSC Gregory Thompson is right in wanting us to feel the sharpness, and to fear the pain. And there's little harm in Hilary Lewis's costumes hinting that we should see the play through Jane Austen's eyes.

So far well and good, though Thompson's inexperience on the Swan's thrust stage is evident in an overly ingenious ramp whose sections are variously reassembled to create shooting-butts, trees, diving-boards and other superfluous and distracting conceits. Away with it! What did work beautifully was his transmuting the exiled courtiers into the very trees on which Orlando pins his verses, and then into as credible a flock of grazing, munching sheep as you could wish. So credible indeed that Touchstone, while quizzing the shepherd, treads in something unmentionable and makes as if to clean his shoes on the rear flank of the offending animal. All this was entertaining enough and in the true spirit of theatrical caprice.

The problem, however, is that the central casting is so awry. Rosalind's protestation that she has no doublet and hose in her disposition is consistently belied in Nina Sosanya's briskly masculine 'Ganymede'. How could the director have allowed her to bark out her lines with such relentless emphasis, so little variety of tone and nuance, as to turn the character into a little monster? …

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