Review: As You Like It at the RSC

As You Like It at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, until (Aug 31 2019; then touring until Apr 2020).

Thought panto season was over? Oh no it isn’t! As You Like It at the RSC leaps off the stage with a raucous blend of comedy, music and pelvic thrusts amid a stark, striking set. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of Shakespeare, give it a go, you might just like it.

Much has been made about the stripped-back set, the political allegories, and the at-times uncomfortable lighting; the house lights are up for much of the play, bringing the audience in – “all the world’s a stage”, after all. Metaphors – subtle or otherwise – aside, this 3-hour frolic around the Forest of Arden veers between fast-paced humour and almost melancholic dialogue. It drags in places, and revs up in others.

Lucy Phelps (Rosalind) and David Ajao (Orlando) in As You Like It at the RSC.
Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

As You Like It belongs to the protagonist Rosalind, and Lucy Phelps delivers the kind of modern heroine we need: faithful, funny and clever. Sophie Khan Levy as cousin Celia is the perfect sidekick, stealing just enough scenes to not show up her beloved “cuz”.

In further victories for the girls, gender-flipped Jacques, played here by Sophie Stanton, is excellent, while the voice of Amiens/Le Beau (Emily Johnstone) raises both titters and smiles. Of course, director Kimberley Sykes should take a bow for her vision of one of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies.

There’s panto in spades, with Touchstone the fool providing most of the comic japes. Some miss their mark, but generally there was much mirth within the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Sandy Grierson as Touchstone. Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

As You Like It at the RSC Stratford-upon-Avon runs until August 31 2019. Book tickets here.

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Information correct at date of publication