With the advent of summer, productions of As You Like It, like Midsummer Night's Dream, come not as single spies but in battalions. This is the third major one I've been to so far this year, following revivals at Stratford and Bristol's Tobacco Factory.
And what a plum-pudding of a production it is, featuring the best Touchstone and Jaques this year, at least, and two cameo roles from veteran comedian Eric Sykes. Surprisingly it is the first time Sir Peter Hall has directed this evergreen comedy, which is here rather pointlessly, and somewhat jarringly, updated to modern dress.
But, what this production brings home better than any I've seen is the
underlying harshness of life beneath all the verbal play, the manners and the 'hey nonny nohs'. The early forest scenes in particular, which feature the bloody remains of a stag, highlight this theme that life is, at base, a struggle for survival for everyone and everything.
Duke is pitted against Duke; brother against brother and the course of true love does not run smooth. The tone of the production, however, is uneven. The early verbal interchanges between Celia (Rebecca Callard) and Rosalind (Rebecca Hall) are limp and Hall takes time to warm into the role.
Joseph Millson, as Orlando, asserts his authority from the first as the upright, ardent lover, a role cornered of late by Jamie Glover. Eric Sykes offers double value as the manservant Adam and Sir Oliver Martext, winning warm and appreciative applause.