Saturday, February 10, 2007

As You Like It - Sheffield Crucible, 10/02/07

I know it is the most famous speech of the play, but this production, directed by the out-going Sam West, really did take the line 'All the world's a stage' as its very heart. It made its theatricality explicit- characters hoisted up a single stylised tree to represent the forest of Arden, the back of the stage had the barres and mirrors of a rehearsal space, and the 'fourth wall' was constantly torn down. I've got to admit that I'm getting a little bored with minimalist, monochrome productions, of which this is another example, but the sparse set was an integral part of West's vision, so I'll let them off this time. Of course, with Rosalind and Celia dressing up to escape the Duke's court, and Rosalind pretending to be witty young man while wooing Orlando, As You Like It is a play which especially lends itself to a discussion of artifice and playing many parts, so this approach was very successful, and satisfying.

While one of the first productions of West's tenure, Much Ado About Nothing, was criticised for ignoring the darker aspects of the play (though for me, the strength of the comedy pretty much compensated), the first half of this production was noticably light on laughs, but this is perhaps not a failing. It allowed for a real menace to be introduced into Duke Federick's mafia-like regime, and made the contrast between the repressive court and the Forest all the greater. Plus, Harry Peacock was so brilliant as the clown Touchstone that to wish for more laughter seems a little churlish.

And so to the leads. Eve Best is the actress that every director wants to work with at the moment, after apparently superlative turns in Hadda Gabler, and the Old Vic's Moon for the Misbegotten, and from her performance here it's easy to see why. Best's Rosalind is strong in the face of unjust exile, but wonderfully giddy in love, and, best of all, visibly enjoys playing Ganymede, as simply being male allows her to give her sharp wit the free rein it is usually denied. Opposite Best as Orlando is Sam Troughton, who Michael Billington descibred as 'unusually strong' (as in he is an unusually strong Orlando, not compared to his previous roles...). Alas I don't have anything to compare his performance to, but he really was great - fiercely angry as the disinherited younger brother, and completely unashamed - bullish even - in his love for Rosalind.

This is a production that refuses to simply be a mindless romp, but instead gently urges you to think about those 'many parts' we play... with a healthy dose of mindless rompery thrown in for good measure.

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