As You Like It

Posted by Laurence Green

A strange, modern-day makeover has been given to Shakespeare's comedy of love and change in Polly Findlay's production of As You Like It (NT Olivier Auditorium).

Patsy Ferran and Rosalind Craig in As You Like It.

With her father the Duke banished and in exile, Rosalind and her cousin Celia leave their lives in the court behind them and journey into the Forest of Arden. There released from convention Rosalind experiences the liberating rush of transformation. Disguising herself as a boy, she embraces a different way of living and falls spectacularly in love.

The world in which we first meet Rosalind is a corporate one with the oppressive court of the merciless Duke Frederick turned into a 21st century trading floor, with people in gaudy jackets sitting at computer screens , doing freeze-frame, jerky movements to convey their regimented lives. Suddenly and unexpectedly desks, chairs and lamps spiral skywards to form tangled shapes, occupied by black-clad figures making whooping sounds to signify the noises of the forest. While the opening scene doesn't make much sense, the transformation into the Forest of Arden is certainly jaw-dropping and conveys a sense of eeriness and mystery but lacks both enchantment and magic. However, although the production seems at times too clever for its own good, it is sprinkled with original touches and builds to a joyous conclusion.

Rosalie Craig brings wit and poise to one of the Bard's most resourceful heroines, capturing  Rosalind's show of amused control and reality-check cynicism, securely concealing the giddy rapture of love and a sense of real pathos beneath the surface. The supporting performances in the NT's large ensemble cast are rather mixed. Patsy Ferran makes a bright eyed and endearing Celia, while Joe Banister is a likeable, lovesick, youthful Orlando, and Mark Benton an earthy, commonsensical clown in Touchstone, but Paul Chahidi's Jaques is unengaging and his "seven ages of man" speech seems laborious rather than revelatory.

This then, is a production which is good in parts, but doesn't entirely convey the play's slippery comedy or hints of darkness, while its main talking points are likely to be not so much the acting as Lizzie Clachan's elaborate set design.


As You Like It

Runs at National Theatre Olivier Auditorium until Saturday 5 March 2016

Box Office: 020 7452 3000   


Images by Johan Persson

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