Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne
The RSC often produce memorable productions that live on in the memory for years afterwards and as we know the staging can at times be controversial.
However, the talking point of this production of As You Like It will be the scene which brought gasps from the audience, as several diverted their eyes, others were transfixed by the action on stage, when a rabbit is skinned and beheaded. OK it is dead to start with, but does this add anything to the production or is it just merely an attention seeking gimmick to get the production talked about? That is another matter entirely and could start a whole debate all of its own. But the audience entering the auditorium after the intermission soon fall silent when they realise the action has begun and the animal is actually real. To be fair, actor Geoffrey Freshwater as shepherd Corin, handles the matter with great professionalism and looks like he was born to skin rabbits.
Leaving this scene aside, Director Michael Boyd gives us a great production, although it is not helped by Tom Pipers designs as we are presented with a bleak stark bare staging of the production. This works best with the violence and fear that is being felt in the Dukes Court, with the cast being dressed in formal black Elizabethan dress. However, even the Forest of Arden appears as a cold, desolate wintry environment. The set is really a series of squares which spring open from behind or below allowing props and actors access to the stage. There was no attempt to bring us the forest, other than a series of branches visible though the squares, apart from a heap brought on by Touchstone (Richard Katz on fine form). While the staging was effective it always seemed detached from the action, as if it was adapted from another production.
When banished to the forest, Rosalind becomes unrecognisable to Orlando as she dresses as a man and Kathy Stephens as Rosalind, brings sensuality to her dealings with [Jonjo O’Neill] as Orlando and is deservedly the star of the show. Apart from Stephens , this is truly an ensemble piece with even the smallest of roles being perfectly cast.
This production should be remembered for Stephens performance but the rabbit scene may, regretfully, over shadow this.