Despite admitting to being nervous about Shakespeare, Rufus Norris continues his inaugural season by bringing an all-star revival of As You Like It to the Olivier stage. It is the first time Shakespeare's comedy has been performed at the National Theatre for almost 40 years, and with director Polly Findlay at the helm, it's an enchanting take on the pastoral comedy.
Rosalind (Rosalie Craig) and Celia (Patsy Ferran) don male clothing and abandon their courtly lives, to find liberation, love and even a lion in the Forest of Arden. With shepherdesses and clowns, Shakespeare's script resounds with pastoral themes, poetry and famous lines including 'all the world's a stage…'. Polly Findlay's fresh, fun production brings out the alienation of the exiles without losing the sparks of romance and the silliness of the humour.
At first we were sceptical. This As You Like It opens in an office. Orlando's big wrestling match doesn't quite work as a corporate event. The courtly claustrophobia gets lost and the big business set-up feels like a shallow aesthetic rather than a meaningful interpretation of the story. But then Lizzie Clachan's utterly spectacular, truly transformative set-design turns everything on its head. Normally applause is reserved for performances, but as the stage shifts into a mystical, modern Forest of Arden the audience were in raptures.
Without ruining the surprise, this forest makes full use of the vast Olivier stage with an imposing and inventive creation that half conceals, half reveals the travellers — and makes sense of the slightly tepid opening.
The large ensemble cast stay in the shadows of the stage, adding to the atmosphere by making a constant soundscape of gales, birdcalls and rustling. As winter turns to spring, the mood lightens, post-it-notes of poetry fill the trees and the comedy gets laugh-out-loud surreal; the main and supporting actors become sheep, bleating on all fours.
Performances across the board are strong. Having already captivated at the National Theatre in The Light Princess, Rosalie Craig is radiant as headstrong heroine Rosalind. Dressed up as a male Ganymede she has cracking chemistry with the unwitting Orlando (Joe Bannister). As Celia/Aliena observing these antics, Patsy Ferran is a joy to watch, cranking up the comedy with expressions and gestures.
By the medley of weddings and a rather haphazard jig at the end, the mood is truly jubilant, capturing all that's fun and entertaining about Shakespeare's comedy.
|What||REVIEW: As You Like It, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
26 Oct 15 – 05 Mar 16, 7:30 PM – 10:10 PM
|Price||£15 - £55|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|