Anyone who has ever strummed effortfully at a guitar and passionately intoned a mediocre song about unrequited love, or anyone who has ever known such a specimen, will recognise much of Michael Boyd’s As You Like It. Orlando croons his couplets about Rosalind; the shepherd Silvius, accompanying himself on some kind of Elizabethan ukulele, bays about Phebe like a dog at the moon; Rosalind’s epilogue is replaced by a verse of Irish folk song “The Parting Glass”; even the melancholy Jaques here sings the songs normally assigned to a minor character and becomes the Leonard Cohen of the forest of Arden.
It is a simple but brilliant touch: too-precious bedsit bardery is one of the universal symbols of young love. While the cast’s costumes modernise from Jacobean to present-day as characters discard their garments with the changing seasons, still this musical love-note sounds down the ages. But the costume changes may also signal removal from the politicking constraints of the court, in favour of . . . actually, of an altogether more brutal set of constraints in the forest, where one can starve even amid natural plenty because one does not own one’s own living. (At the start of the second half, the audience enters to find Corin preparing a rabbit for cooking – genuinely: he skins and guts it, and to collective “Ewww!”s chops its head off.)
The biggest problem with Boyd’s production is one that has beset him in the past: he has too many ideas. He tries to make economic and political points as well as being faithful to and reinvigorating the festive comedy of the play. Sometimes what you see is the assembly rather than the thing assembled. But he almost always knows what he is doing. I was doubtful that Katy Stephens could make an appealing enough Rosalind, after her implacable appearances in Boyd’s production of The Histories; but unloose her hair, put her in a floppy hat, draw on a moustache and beardlet and she becomes in male disguise quite the young cavalier. She is also as reflective as Jonjo O’Neill’s intelligent, sensitive Orlando. Richard Katz is a knowing Touchstone, Forbes Masson an excellent Jaques (with an astounding counter-tenor singing voice) and Christine Entwisle, who plays Phebe, deserves a go at Rosalind herself, as does Mariah Gale, who has understudied the role while playing Celia. ★★★★☆
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