As You Like It at Sheffield Crucible and Lyric Hammersmith
If all the world is indeed a stage (and who am I to argue?), then one imagines the set would be on the scale of designer Christopher Oram's effort for this Sheffield Theatres production, a towering collection of timber. Lit impressively by Hartley Kemp, the set threatens to dwarf both performers and performance during a tentative opening when the cast still appear to be feeling their way around the large performance space. By the time we reach the forest of Arden, the pace and Michael Grandage's direction are more finely tuned and, while everything has a peculiar disproportionate feel, those on-stage make a very sizeable contribution to what becomes a hugely entertaining evening.
Ben Daniels has both a great stage presence and an Adonis physique. His Orlando is such a fragile creature at times that you want to shout and tell him that Ganymede is his beloved Rosalind and cheer when he finally gets the girl. Victoria Hamilton may not be the sexiest Rosalind that has ever been but when she dons the shepherd's clothes she turns into a comic tour de force, borrowing the persona of Dawn French in the process. What the pair may lack in sexual chemistry together they make up for in the highly accomplished execution of their respective roles.
While there is enormous strength in depth here Bob Mason's Touchstone really stands apart from the collection of subsidiary characters. His fool is a brilliantly odd combination of music hall comedy and working men's club stand-up that leaves you wanting more. Una Stubbs plays Touchstone's sex interest Audrey and, although Stubbs may be resorting to type, that doesn't make her performance any less of a wonder to watch. Nicholas Le Prevost also strikes the right balance between melancholy and courtier's wit with his Jaques.
Julian Philips' original music, a heady brew of fiddle playing, merges with a less impressive rag bag of costume to give the production a folky feel without ever clearly defining where we are and what period we are in. Fight director Alison De Burgh has provided some powerful action and a wrestling scene that would disturb the WWF with its authenticity.
So there are problems, but they prove not to be insurmountable: the performer's fighting spirit shines through in the end.
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield 3-26 February
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith 1-25 March