Does going to the theatre really make that much of a difference?

Review: ‘As You Like It’ – theatre or live screening?

Harry Smith and Alpana Sajip both review As You Like It from the theatre and a live screening respectively.

Harry gives 4 stars to this classic play reviewed from the National Theatre.

Shakespeare’s manic romantic comedy, set in a world where stifling convention is thrown out of the window, has been taken on by the National Theatre. Director Polly Findlay creates a piece that connects Shakespeare’s world brilliantly to our own, not just in its transposition to a vague yet recognisable mega-corporation’s offices (and subsequently the ‘corporate jungle’ wasteland of Arden) but also in the way that the show is presented to us.

The show can be greatly praised for Lizzie Clachan’s set, which transforms from that recognisable office into a bewildering and isolated mess of tables, chairs and computers hanging from the ceiling like trees – a dump where old things are forgotten, but new things are found. And that’s exactly what the play is. The wrestling scene is set up to be energetic and funny, and is exactly that with the considerably hefty Charles laying serious hurt on Orlando. Combined with the cheering ensemble, you’re ready to start hollering your support as well. In this sense it feels truly Shakespearean, along with dancing and music throughout. The ensemble work is brilliantly sustained throughout, in soundscapes, in dances and in a flock of sheep. This show combines the energy of a Globe performance with the budget of the National.

The awkwardness, the flirty banter, the dramatic pining on both sides and their friends’ exasperation at this is conveyed well.

If you accept the energy the show gives you at this crucial, ridiculous moment – which I should hope you do – the comedy throughout is that much easier to enjoy. The timing is glorious, and the lines are punctuated with exaggerated actions that explain them clearly. In particular, Mark Benton’s performance of Touchstone really conveys the courtly foolery of the character, in a way that maintains a link to the modernised setting; he makes himself one of the most believable characters for that setting, whilst also being a presence of slapstick comedy. His interaction with William, a naïve manchild (think Moss from The IT Crowd) provides the best example of both kinds of comedy sustained throughout the play. At times the physicality can edge on over-gesticulating, but at the same time it feels completely natural to see Rosalind, played perfectly by Rosalie Craig, collapsing to the floor and rolling over in exasperation at her incompetent love. You can completely understand what is going on – this is good in any play, but especially in Shakespeare.

These more manic elements in the play help us enjoy the ‘quieter’ moments. After all there is a love plot in this play, quite a few in fact (spoiler! four couples get married – but who to whom?) and there are scenes where Shakespeare has a little philosophy session. Findlay indulges the Bard in this, but keeps it interesting for the audience through explosive moments of sadness or anger. The central love plot between Rosalind and Orlando is totally believable. The awkwardness, the flirty banter, the dramatic pining on both sides and their friends’ exasperation at this is conveyed well. We all know that experience, and it is shown beautifully by the tangible chemistry between the most prominent characters.

The ensemble work is brilliantly sustained throughout, in soundscapes, in dances and in a flock of sheep.

The key to all this enjoyment, however, is very much left down to the audience. When you are in a theatre like the National, or even worse when you’re watching the National through a screen, it can feel very weird to truly react, lest another audience member tut at you. But I am begging you, please do. Get up, hoot, holler and scream at the wrestling! Cheer at the dancing, clap along! Let yourself enjoy and share in the energy that the performance gives you. Be moved by the songs sung by Fra Free (AKA “isn’t he in Les Mis?”), swept along by the turbulent romances and thoroughly entertained by the comedy. I implore you, whosoever goes to see it, make the most of it. It’s one of the very few times you will see Shakespeare performed right.


Alpana only gives 3 stars to the live screening.

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays: a wealth of characters, disguises and intricately interwoven love triangles are attributes typical of the Bard’s comedies, and are brought out playfully in the National Theatre’s first revival of the play in over thirty years.

Banished by her uncle Frederick (Leo Wringer), the newly love-struck Rosalind (Rosalie Craig) disguises herself as a man and, along with her cousin Celia (Patsy Ferran), journeys through the Forest of Arden dreaming of Orlando (Joe Bannister) – who unbeknownst to her is making exactly the same journey. These central performances were undoubtedly strong, with particularly good support from Paul Chahidi as the melancholy Jaques (whose famous “all the world’s a stage” speech came off as thoughtful and spontaneous) and Mark Benton as a sufficiently genial Touchstone. Unfortunately Gemma Lawrence gave a disappointingly clunky performance as the Phoebe to Ken Nwosu’s doe-eyed Silvius. For someone ‘mad’ with love, Craig’s Rosalind was too sure of herself, not betraying the breathy passion that defines her character and too melodramatic at times – her occasional bouts of screaming and crying seemed insincere. The hesitant Orlando was no match for her headstrong nature. Yes, Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s strongest female leads, but the romance here seemed uneven and unrealistic. By contrast, the sisterly affection between Rosalind and Celia was charmingly played, perhaps the best in this production.

During the play, the tables and chairs of the office rose to form an eerily suspended Forest of Arden.

The play opened with a garishly-coloured office space, with workers in equally loud jackets busying themselves with random pointless tasks such as shredding and filing. Sadly, the boxing match between Orlando and Charles (Leon Annor) seemed too contrived and incongruous, and the loud crashing music and strobe lighting didn’t work at all. I also didn’t really understand the significance of the mock-corporate setting: it didn’t seem to have any relevance to the storyline, except perhaps to contextualise one of the best set changes I’ve ever seen. During the play, the tables and chairs rose to form an eerily suspended Forest of Arden with bleak lighting filtering through the gaps, eliciting a darkness which contrasted the comedy of the play beautifully.

Natural sound effects were subtly provided by the unnecessarily large ensemble, sitting high up in the makeshift ‘trees’. Orlando Gough’s musical direction comes to life in the choral interludes headed by the deep and fruity voice of Fra Fee as Amiens. Additionally, the bleating goats were a delicately humorous touch, refreshing in light of some of the more heavy-handed comedy, such as Touchstone’s slapstick demonstration of the ‘hundred and fifty ways’ in which he would kill William (Ekow Quartey).

Jaques’ famous “all the world’s a stage” speech came off as thoughtful and spontaneous.

Director Polly Findlay’s production makes for a magical evening; Lizzie Clachan’s set, though disappointingly absurd at first, proves itself to be one of the more memorable feats achieved at the National. Ultimately it outshines the ensemble, which, though it is headed by several undoubtedly strong performers, is weakened by some questionable supporting performances and the superfluity of the oversized chorus.


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