Tuesday, November 03, 2015

AS YOU LIKE IT at the Olivier, National Theatre... well, did I?

Although it's often produced, I have only ever seen AS YOU LIKE IT once when in 1990 Sophie Thompson played the role of Rosalind for the RSC with a cast including Gillian Bevan, Jerome Flynn, Hugh Ross and Mark Williams.  For some reason I just never get round to seeing it when it is performed... maybe I am in mourning for the fact that I can never see Vanessa Redgrave's legendary star-making performance, again for the RSC in 1962.

But that was then and this is now and 36 years after it's last appearance on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre it has now returned in a production directed by Polly Findlay and designed by Lizzie Clachan, the same team behind last year's TREASURE ISLAND.

The star of that show Patsy Ferran is here returned as Celia, the gentle cousin of the heroine Rosalind who was due to be played by Andrea Riseborough who, when she pulled out citing 'personal reasons', was replaced by Rosalie Craig, an actress more known for musicals.

Now all opinions here must reflect the fact that the production was still in preview so is still feeling it's way through the play with a paying audience.  But as I have oft said before, a paying audience is a paying audience.  Did I like it, AS YOU LIKE IT?  Ummm.... not really if honest.  I found it a superficial production where the set and cast were all surface with no real insight offered or found.

Although she gave a perfectly acceptable performance, there was nothing particularly eye-catching about Craig's Rosalind.  Here one of Shakespeare's most memorable female characters seemed on a powered by a fairly neutral star wattage.  Patsy Ferran is also showing signs of becoming an eccentric stage actress which works well for most of the production but eventually you can have enough of her gauche line readings and dizzy perambulations around the stage, like a pixilated unicyclist who has come off her bike.

It can't be often that one leaves AS YOU LIKE IT thinking that the actor playing Orlando gave the best performance but Joe Bannister was a strong presence onstage but also giving a light comic shading to galumphing but loving Orlando.

I didn't find either Mark Benton as Touchstone of Paul Chahidi as Jaques to be as particularly funny as they should have been, Chahidi underplaying to such an extent that I felt in some scenes that his suit had been send out with him not in it.

However I did like Patrick Godfrey's feisty retainer Adam, John Ramm's exiled Duke and Gemma Lawrence's headstrong Phebe.  There was however a truly ghastly performance from Leo Wringer as the usurping Duke Frederick, it was real Amateur Hour in the Duchy.

As with TREASURE ISLAND, Clachan provides a big OOOOOOH moment when her set transforms itself totally.  The set for the Duchy is a presumably deliberately ugly open-plan, low ceilinged office which did not so much suggest the Court of the Duchy than the IT room of a Las Vegas gambling casino.  When Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone escape from the nasty Duke's court into the forest of Arden, the whole metal set is lifted from the back to noisily clang and clank itself up to the full height of the Olivier stage - tables, chairs, light-fittings etc. all hang down like an industrialised forest.  All terribly impressive but once it's done we are stuck with it and apart from the odd pretty lighting effect through the dangling metal it ultimately again strikes one as a fairly shallow experience.  Christina Cunningham's costumes are also quite ugly.

So, more a case of AS YOU DIDN'T LIKE IT.  Owen enjoyed it much more than I did and I might be willing to give it another go after they have all settled into the run but it was all a bit disappointing on the first visit.

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