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A CurtainUp London London Review
As You Like It

Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a holiday humour, and like enough to consent. What would you say to me now an I were your very, very Rosalind? ----Rosalind (as 'Ganymede')
I would kiss before I spoke. ----Orlando
As You Like It
Lia Williams as Rosalind
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
These are exciting times both for director Dominic Cooke, who created this enchanted staging of Shakespeare's second greatest love story, and for actress Lia Williams who stars as his Rosalind. His earth-shattering revival of The Crucible, just opened at Stratford, follows close on his appointment as Artistic Director (Designate) at the Royal Court. Meanwhile she accepted her boyfriend's proposal on the triumphant opening night of As You Like It last August -- still breathless from the stage, dressed in Rosalind's wedding garb: a spontaneous moment of romance that chimes so beautifully with this tale of love and marriage in the Forest of Arden.

Cooke's production now transfers from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to crown and complete the RSC's quartet of Comedies at the gloriously refurbished Novello Theatre. Rae Smith's design is a giant greenwood tree, perhaps an evergreen Sequoia, seen first in the depths of a snowy winter, decked in Christmas lights. This sets the scene for Orlando's bruising encounter with Charles the wrestler and for that mutual and sudden buzz of attraction when he first meets Rosalind. Then as the action moves to Arden in high summer, its outstretched branches offer convenient hooks for Orlando's love poems.

Astonishingly for such an acclaimed actress, Rosalind is Williams' first Shakespearean role, and I was not altogether convinced by her transformation into a cross-dressing Ganymede, which she plays as a laddish, swaggering tomboy while still beautifully catching the pangs and uncertainties of love. Hatless and with a shirt hanging half out of her trousers, her costume is the evening's only design flaw.

Williams also comes up against formidable competition from Amanda Harris as her demure cousin Celia and, in this version a potential romantic rival. Wearing neat specs which she flirtatiously removes whenever she encounters Orlando, hers is a playful, scene-stealing performance

Williams' best moments are her glorious androgynous wooing scenes with Barnaby Kay whose Hollywood tough-guy good looks proves strong, lively casting for Orlando as her ardent, youthful lover who swings from the branches and cycles around Rosalind with impudent joy. As played here he seems instantly to see through her disguise. Their match is capped by a prolonged kiss and her shy "fathoms deep" declaration of love.

Rustic romance also adds to the fun, with Meg Fraser almost unrecognisable as the gap-toothed goat herd Audrey, leaping with delight at the comic, half-hearted proposal by Paul Chahidi's Touchstone as the forest fool, before returning glammed-up in a too-tight wedding dress. Caitlin Mottram with a perfect Avon accent plays a more than usually comely Phoebe, preferring the unavailable Ganymede to Jamie Ballard's doting Silvius.

Gary Yershon's score provides slightly tuneless settings of the poems sung by Gurpreet Singh as well as a toe-tapping, banjo version of "Hey-Nonny-No" that should surely have been reprised as the play-out. Joseph Mydell's suave Antillean Jacques, no melancholy sage in his panama hat, stills the action with a steadily delivered "Seven Ages" speech. But the best verse-speaking comes from John Mackay as Orlando's brother, telling the terrifying tale of a serpent and a lion and, as Rosalind still in Ganymede disguise swoons into his surprised arms, suddenly discovering breasts under her loose shirt.

Look out too for Jonathan Newth playing both the Dukes with some nifty changes of costume, and for Miles Richardson as an elegant, powerfully played courtier Le Beau. Perhaps New York readers may have the opportunity to see them if this fine production has a life beyond our shores.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dominic Cooke

Starring: Lia Williams, Barnaby Kay
With: Patrick Waldron, John Mackay, Alan Morrissey, David Rogers, Amanda Harris, Paul Chahidi, Miles Richardson, Jonathan Newth, Sally Tatum, Joseph Mydell, Gurpreet Singh, Jamie Ballard, Peter Bygott, Meg Fraser, Edward Clayton, Caitlin Mottram, Trystan Gravelle, Peter Bankole, Chris McGill and Barrie Palmer.
Design: Rae Smith
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: Paul Arditti
Choreography: Liz Ranken
Music: Gary Yershon
Music Director: Mark Bousie
Fights: Terry King
A Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production
Running time: Three hours and 13 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0870 950 0940
Booking until 24th March, 2006
Reviewed by John Thaxter based on 7th March 2006 performance at the Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London WC2B 4LD
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