The only criticism I have is that this play is somewhat slow to start and feels somewhat drawn out to begin with. Also, the full oppression of the ruling Court is not fully established and it is not immediately clear what Rosalind is fleeing from and why it is necessary for her to do so.
But once Rosalind and Celia have escaped and transformed themselves in to brother and sister Ganymede and Aliena (Jumbo and Hotten respectively) and journeyed to Arden; the action really takes off and the audience settle down to be entertained, then this production truly delivers.
The minimalist set by Ashley Martin-Davis is brought to life with a colourfully painted floor and although the performers have little to work with, the Forest of Arden somehow comes to life. Aided superbly by Peter Rice's great sound design and James Dey's live music in troubadour style - is a stroke of genius and really lifts the performance from good to outstanding.
The cast have been well chosen; as each performer brings depth and style to the words and Bartholomew makes Touchstone witty rather than silly and refrains from being ridiculous to the point of absurd. He even gets the audience involved where appropriate and his outfits are sure to raise a smile from all in attendance.
Jumbo captures Rosalind’s intensity and passion with gusto and her finale epilogue is a pleasure to watch. Ben Batt’s Orlando is strong willed and infatuated with his love, Rosalind and he goes on a successful journey from head strong boy to a well rounded young man within the performance.
Finally, James Clyde portrays a truly melancholy Jaques who is so full of sorrow that his words are truly touching in places. Greg Hersov’s direction is to be largely commended as each member of the Company is given the opportunity to shine and contribute to what is a very classy production.
A Summer treat and a success then, as The Royal Exchange have taken a Shakespeare classic - mixed it up and modernised it - without losing any of the potency.
- Ruth Lovett