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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
AS YOU LIKE IT
at Roundhouse

SAD CLOWNS, HAPPY POETS
By JOHN NATHAN

  Katy Stephens, Jonjo O'Neill and Mariah Gale/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

Michael Boyd’s production of Shakespeare’s dark comedy may not be as exciting as Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet, nor does it evoke place and period as convincingly as Lucy Bailey’s Julius Caesar, which was set in a terrifyingly violent Rome. But it is at least anchored by some fine performances. Fine performances at the Royal Shakespeare Company are a given, right? 
 
Well, yes. Usually. But take, for example, two of the best performances in the current RSC season, previously seen at Stratford and now in London. Mariah Gale’s death-obsessed Juliet was heartrending; Sam Troughton’s fevered Romeo was saturated with adolescent impetuosity. Yet both actors were upstaged by the attention-grabbing tactics of Goold’s admittedly hugely entertaining production. And similarly, it was the stagecraft in Bailey’s production of Julius Caesar that stays in the mind. 
 
Here though, RSC artistic director Boyd allows his best performances to shine – and one in particular: Forbes Masson’s Jaques – here pronounced “Jaqueeze” as opposed to the more Gallic “Jacques” or the Anglo Saxon “Jakes” – the melancholic philosopher whose seven-ages-of-man speech has every male in the auditorium taking stock of his life and working out how long to go before oblivion. No wonder Jaques is a melancholic. Masson’s depressive is also uplifting, though. With eyelids painted black and wearing a long, mauve cloak, the tragedian is part romantic poet and part overdosed – or maybe under-dosed – rock star. 
 
More central to this comedy, in which the most prevalent emotion is sadness, are Katy Stephens’ Rosalind and the increasingly impressive Gale, who has swapped Juliet for the Duke’s daughter Celia. They make fine foils for each other. Before banishment, Gale’s Celia exists behind a mask of white face-paint like a young Queen Elizabeth shackled to the etiquette of court. Her favourite cousin Rosalind is freer of such constraints – and make-up. It makes perfect sense of Celia’s urge to follow the banished Rosalind to freedom and the Forest of Arden. And it is here that designer Tom Piper takes rewarding risks with a minimalist design of white wooden panels through which characters make sudden entrances. 
 
There are no trees on which Jonjo O’Neill’s besotted Orlando can pin his missives to Rosalind. Instead, they are plastered all round the theatre. For rural realism, Richard Katz’s touchstone (never quite the loose canon eccentric his explosion of frizzy hair promises) is hilariously entangled in a morass of brambles, and more real still is the beheading and skinning of real rabbits, causing many more gasps from the audience than the earlier brutal wrestling match between Orlando and the Duke’s wrestler Charles (an engaging David Carr). 
 
There is, alas, a good deal more heat generated between these men than the in-love Orlando and the disguised Rosalind. Though at least during the Arden scenes the latter actually looks like a man or, more precisely, a piratical Johnny Depp with a dashing moustache and stubble. 
 
Yet Orlando and Rosalind’s eventual union is an oddly unemotional affair. More moving was Geoffrey Freshwater (it is he who butchers the rabbits), who brings a quiet dignity to the role of the hard-working, straight-talking shepherd Corin. 
 
This is typical of the production’s best moments, which arrive as understated detail. But even here, anyone hoping for the kind of central bravura performance that can define an RSC season will be pinning all their hopes on Greg Hicks’ forthcoming Lear
 


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