First time seeing As You Like It and I confess that a few good productions of Shakespeare's comedies in recent years has been slowly winning me over to the genre having previously preferred the serious stuff.
Often what was funny 400 or so years ago just isn't that funny in the 21st Century but those productions that have worked brought out the physical comedy and have gone for all round entertainment value. And this is true of As You Like It.
The central story thread follows Roslind (Pippa Nixon) and Orlando (Alex Waldmann) who meet briefly and fall in love. Shortly afterwards Rosalind is banished to the forest of Arden by her evil uncle who has also usurped and banished her father, and Orlando is forced to flee into the forest to escape his evil brother who wants to bump him off.
Shakespeare draws on one of his favourite plot contrivances having Rosalind disguise herself as a man (Ganymeade) in the forest for safety. Of course she then happens upon Orlando who spends his time composing love songs to Rosalind, leaving them nailed to trees all over forest.
'Ganymeade' persuades Orlando that he can cure him of his love for Rosalind and says he'll pretend to be Rosalind for the purpose. Cue a delightful sequence of wooing and spa-ing between the two.
The forest of Arden backdrop is is given a hippie theme, the characters fully embracing the freedom of going back to nature and rejecting convention. You almost believe there is a music and arts festival going on just over the next hill, indeed there are musicians are on stage, a sort of house band playing music devised by singer-song writer Laura Marling. The exciled Duke, dressed like an aging rock star (Cliff Burnett) lives with shepherds, goat herds, musicians and forest lord Jaques (Oliver Ryan) who wears eyeliner and revels in the melancholy.
There is a battered fridge providing an endless supply of beers and hammocks from where joints can be smoked under trees decked with bunting.
Rosalind brings with her into the forest, Touchstone (Nicholas Tennant) the clown-nose wearing court fool who, alongside Jaques, provides a lot of the humour.
Scratch at the story too hard and you'll be left with a lot of unanswered questions but this isn't so much about story but about fun and frolics. Nixon and Waldmann have a wonderful chemistry on stage that provides a beating heart. The serious issues of banishment are quickly forgotten as the two grapple with the effects of love. It is a key relationship because none of this would work if you didn't want them to be together and there was a collective shared joy in the theatre when they do finally hook up.
As You Like It is bonkers and riotous and just all round good fun. There is never a dull moment so that the three hours and 20 minute running time (including interval) just flies by.
It runs in rep at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon until 28 September.
On this trip to Stratford I also saw Hamlet which is reviewed here and includes the RS/BW 6DS if you are so interested.
Also recently seen:The Cripple of Innishmaan, Noel Coward Theatre