Whatsonstage.com theatregoers were treated to an all-star turnout last night for As You Like It at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre. After two hours and 50 minutes of performance, stars Sienna Miller (pictured) and Helen McCrory returned to the stage to talk exclusively to our group about their experiences on David Lan’s new 1940s-set production of Shakespeare’s ever-popular comedy.

In As You Like It, Rosalind (McCrory) and Celia (Miller) have been banished from Court. In fear of their lives, they disguise themselves (as a boy and a pauper) and seek sanctuary in the Forest of Arden. Amongst the magical and ancient boughs, Rosalind discovers her exiled father and falls helplessly in love with Orlando (played by Dominic West).

Miller – best known for her film roles in Alfie and Layer Cake as well as fashion icon and fiancée of Jude Law – makes her professional stage debut in the production. Perhaps, more surprisingly, the production is the West End debut of Helen McCrory. To date, the award-winning stage actress has worked mainly at the Donmar Warehouse, Almeida and National Theatres.

At last night’s Q&A, Miller and McCrory were joined by director David Lan, composer Tim Sutton and fellow cast members Dominic West, Clive Rowe, Sam Kenyon, Denise Gough, Michael Howcroft and Rebecca Jenkins. Highlights from the discussion follow…

On the production history

David Lan: It came about as a happy coincidence really. As You Like It is a play I had wanted to do for a long time at the Young Vic and we didn't manage to get it in before the theatre closed and when we were thinking about what we might do while the theatre was closed I happened to talk to Sonia Friedman and she told me that it was also a play she wanted to do.

On making their debuts

Sienna Miller: It was David Lan who persuaded me to do it really. I knew that I wanted to do theatre and it kind of happened very spontaneously. I met David and he told me he was doing this play and I said “fantastic, can I be in it?!” I think I agreed to it before I even read the play, but when I did read it, I thought it was wonderful. And Helen is one of my greatest friends.

Helen McCrory: I think David and Sonia's choice of the play means you have a certain type of audience that is going to come and see it anyway (whether it’s in a subsidised house or the West End). But it is wonderful that we have such an eclectic cast that is attracting a different kind of audience. It is lovely to have that mixture, and not just “oh, because it's a West End play, we need people who appeared in a series in the 70s”. This cast is not just going to get bums on seats whether they are rightly cast or not, as is the case with some.

On the relationship between Rosalind & Orlando

Helen McCrory: "It is very exciting to be working with Dominic West. I felt with Orlando, if this wasn't her man, if this wasn't her equal, if this wasn't someone who terrified her, which is what can happen when you fall in love, it wouldn't work."

Dominic West: Those scenes (when Orlando woos Rosalind while she’s disguised as a man, Ganymede) are the most challenging and are my favourite scenes. They are so wonderfully complex and so real about what it is like to fall in love and that fear.

On the production’s setting (France in the 1940s)

Denise Gough (who plays country girl Phoebe): Being set in France frees it up. We felt a lot freer with the accent. It really released the words from the script.

David Lan: We chose the 1940s because the language seemed to fit so well with the period. We also had to have costumes that could be worn by a woman to make her look like a man, and the 1940s formal dress worked well.

Tim Sutton: Being set in France gave us an obvious in to the world of French chanson. I did a play seven years ago about Piaf in which I did arrangements of the numbers. When the opportunity came to write music that was in the style of 1940s French music, my reaction was “fantastic!” When David said he would like to use actor-musicians, I thought that was a brilliant way to make the music live on stage.

On Shakespeare the genius

Clive Rowe: It seems like a ridiculous comment, but Shakespeare is really good. Often you just don't appreciate that, you read it and maybe enjoy it, but when you take the time to think about it, you realise everything in Shakespeare is still relevant today.

David Lan: What Clive said, about Shakespeare being really good, sounds like a simple statement but is actually profound. Shakespeare was phenomenally clever, much cleverer than most people who read and interpret his work. We had to work really hard at some points to really understand what he was saying. But if you don't get Shakespeare, it’s not because he explained himself inadequately, it is that you simply don't get it yet.

- by Terri Paddock