As You Like It at the RSC. Credit: Topher McGrillis

REVIEW | As You Like It | RSC

The RSC take the phrase ‘all the world’s a stage’ and creates a production of As You Like It that invites the audience into their theatrical world, taking them on a journey through the lives of a collection of characters and their varieties of love.

It’s an ensemble piece but tells the story of young Rosalind who is living with her cruel uncle. Rosalind falls in love with a man named Orlando when he is taking part in a wrestling match in court. But when Rosalind’s uncle banishes her, finding out Orlando is the son of an old rival, they both flee to the Forest of Arden. Disguised as a boy for her safety, Rosalind meets Orlando in the woods and decides to test his love.

Lucy Phelps plays the role of boisterous Rosalind superbly. Dealing with the complexity of her emotions, it’s a touch role to take on but Phelps does it with ease. Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most fantastic female characters as she is always challenging the conventions of a male-dominated society. Phelps is charming and confident in the role as she exudes wisdom and sharp wit. 

Alongside the romantic love in the play, As You Like it is also a play about the strong bond of female friendship. Rosalind’s cousin Celia runs away with her to the woods and stands by her side throughout. Sophie Khan Levy plays the role of Celia and displays her more conventional and reserved nature in comparison to Rosalind, as she is constantly keeping Rosalind’s feet on the ground. However, when Celia and Rosalind are alone she she is bursting with life and humour, and Khan Levy portrays these two sides to the character excellently. 

Director Kimberly Sykes has made some impressive choices as she plays on the theatricality of the play. When the back curtain drops and the backstage is exposed, the house lights are turned up and continue to stay on during the show. It is certainly a play where the audience feel included and this works well as the cast freely interact with the audience.

There are some truly tremendous moments in the play and I found myself belly laughing at the comedy, particularly Sandy Grierson as Touchstone and Emily Johnstone as Amiens and Le Beau. What works about these characters is that they’re completely over the top and silly, which makes the play as a whole feel more accessible. However, like a lot of Shakespeare, it needs to be more concise. Some scenes didn’t feel essential and the play has the potential to be a lot tighter.

As You Like It at the RSC. Credit: Topher McGrillis
As You Like It at the RSC. Credit: Topher McGrillis

David Ajao gives an expressive performance as Orlando who is desperate to be reunited with Rosalind. One brilliant moment in the play is when he is using the audience to help win her love. Stumbling around the stage he is asking audience members what he should first say to Rosalind when he meets her again. It’s ridiculously funny and Ajao has a really naturally comedic stage presence as his animated character bring heaps of energy to the stage.

As You Like It is a playful, fun and inventive production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. The exploration of love is both entertaining and endearing and Lucy Phelps’ sensational stand out performance is completely consuming. 

As You Like It is on at the RSC until the 31st of August, tickets can be found on the website.

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