The most arresting image in Stephen Unwin's production of Shakespeare's rural comedy is a giant mound of earth, like a giant dunghill. While it makes sense in the Forest of Arden, Jonathan Fensom's design looks slightly out of place in the Duke's court – although it does serve as a suitable hiding place for Rosalind and Celia in the latter half of the play.
Unwin's production is fast-paced – too fast paced at times. Both Georgina Rich's Rosalind and David Sturzaker's Orlando take some of the speeches far too quickly - particularly in the first-half of the play but this does portray some of the heady joys of a first romance. What's often glossed over is that these are young lovers – Orlando's elder brother is still at school – and Rich and Sturzaker both capture the joys of first teenage romance. Rich, in particular, grows more into her role as if captivated by all the possibilities of love.
What's missing though is the sexual ambiguity – this is Shakespeare at his most playful, joyfully shuffling between gender roles but Rich doesn't really revel in this confusion – there's little difference between her masculine alter ego, Ganymede and Rosalind herself, losing some of the impact. Nor does Sturzaker really get to grips with the artificiality of wooing a boy pretending to be a young woman.
There are some good supporting performances, Phoebe Fox, who made a strong impression at Chichester last summer brought a touch of playfulness to Celia, seeming to make her rather feistier than Rosalind. Paul Shelley, playing both Dukes, and Adrian Lukis's contemplative Jacques showed how to speak Shakespearean verse, Lukis in particular had a nice line in cynicism to accompany his melancholy, Michael Feast provides a fast-talking Touchstone.
The impression is of a production that needs a bit more rehearsing; actors stumbled over lines and small bits of timing went astray – the gap between the end of Jacques' seven ages speech and the appearance of Orlando carrying Adam means that the dramatic impact of Shakespeare's words is slightly lost. This is definitely a production that got better during the course of the evening and it's one that I think will improve during the course of its run.