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As You Like It

We that are true lovers run into strange capers
---- Touchstone
As You Like It
Helen McCrory as Rosalind
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Whilst the Young Vic is being reconstructed, the theatre's Artistic Director David Lan has transferred his innovative and lively approach to Shakespeare's As You Like It at the Wyndham's. This production has an immediate, albeit eclectic appeal: a distinctive, modish style, the superb Helen McCrory as Rosalind, the stand-up comedian Sean Hughes as the clown Touchstone, Clive Rowe as a singing duke and celebrity actress Sienna Miller as Celia in her professional stage debut.

David Lan skilfully pulls together these varied elements into an excitingly fresh coherence. He lends a solid acting integrity combined with many novel touches. For example, Rosalind reads the epilogue from an Arden edition of the play, including an explanatory footnote for an abstruse Elizabethan expression and thus illuminates an antiquated theatrical convention. Again, the embarrassingly swift romance between Oliver and Celia which is primarily a token of the happy-ending impetus rather than psychological consistency always presents a dilemma for a modern production. Lan skilfully has the pair play out a silent, moving tableau charting their embryonic romance from hesitant attraction to reciprocal devotion, eking out the brief text of they who "no sooner met, but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved". Far from undermining the play's meaning, Lan's originality explicates and neutralizes the otherness of Shakespeare.

The production is firmly relocated to France in the late 1940s. The post war era of hope and regeneration is fittingly the setting for this play with themes of resolution and redemption after suffering. The design for the court scenes is stylish and sepia-tinted, particularly effective in Rosalind and Celia's tete a tete scene. In a Parisian-style cafe, the cousins exchange confidences over cigarettes and red wine. The Forest of Arden, on the other hand, is rustically French with rough Gallic accents and a chansonnier interprets Shakespeare's words into a musical abundance. Actor musicians perform ballad-style songs composed by Tim Sutton and accompanied by an onstage accordion player (Lisa-Lee Leslie). The songs seem especially suited to the 1940s era, with their melancholy, philosophy and romance.

Helen McCrory's Rosalind is excellent: funny, courageous and affecting. Her performance brings a psychological depth to the spirited, witty and intelligent Rosalind, understanding the Ganymede disguise as both physical and emotional self-preservation. Her Rosalind is terrified of the vulnerability of falling in love and her intensely anguished confession to Celia is incredibly moving: "O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love!" Dominic West lends strong support as a sincere, manly Orlando. Sienna Miller makes a charming Celia, balancing her wisely cynical love advice to Rosalind with the comic elements in the part. Reece Sheersmith's Jacques is possessed of an angrier melancholy than usual. The declamatory, didactic style with which he delivers the "All the world's a stage" speech really brings out the bleakly nihilistic sentiment at the heart of this familiarly cliched speech.

Although original and distinctively modern, the style of this richly-textured production seems in harmony with the play. The themes of love, comedy and philosophical ruminations in exile are well brought out by intelligent direction, and the flourishes of innovation are integrated so that they feel in no way gimmicky. As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most captivating plays, and has here found a production worthy of its quality: at once funny and poignant, imaginative and sincere.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lan

Starring: Helen McCrory, Sienna Miller, Sean Hughes, Dominic West
With: David Killick, Andrew Woodall, Andrew French, Michael Howcroft, Nigel Richards, Sam Kenyon, Ben Turner, Denise Gough, Rebecca Jenkins, Lisa-lee Leslie
Designer: Richard Hudson
Composer: Tim Sutton
Movement: Ben Wright
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Running time: Two hours fifty-five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6633
Booking to 17th September 2005
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 21st June performance at the Wyndhams, Charing Cross Road London WC2 (Tube: Leicester Square)
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