Kimberley Sykes directs a riotous, exhilarating version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy.

Rosalind is banished, wrestling with her heart and her head. With her cousin by her side, she journeys to a world of exile where barriers are broken down and all can discover their deeper selves.

The storyline of As You Like It revolves around the character of Rosalind, banished by her usurping uncle to the Forest of Arden, where her exiled father is already living. Revelling in the naturalness of their surroundings, Rosalind and her companions - cousin Celia and Touchstone the fool - find a happiness they hadn’t known existed...

In the hands of a talented director, As You Like It is a Shakespeare play that almost invariably works and works well - and with Kimberley Sykes at the helm, this latest RSC?version of Will’s 1599 rom-com makes for a splendidly riotous, consistently playful and thoroughly exhilarating 156 minutes.

Despite its forelock-tugging towards different times and different periods and its brilliant use of a mingle-mangle of costumes from various productions, the show looks and feels quite modern, and utterly succeeds in being exactly what Sykes wants it to be: a joyful celebration of the art of theatre-making. There’s stand-up comedy and live music to enjoy, not to mention elements of pantomime, moments of audience interaction, plenty of political debate and some delightful improvisation.

The cast comprises actors at the very top of their game who know better than to let the show’s energy level drop, even for an instant; they each give the impression of being super-confident in their material and their fellow performers, engaging with one another and the storyline with an admirable, almost machine-like efficiency.

There’s gender-fluid casting in evidence too, an element which lends the production a real modern-times appeal.

This was a performance that managed to be every bit as warm and sunny as the February day on which it was staged, and with spring most definitely on the way, Sykes’ Forest of Arden is a destination well worth heading for.     

As You Like It shows at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until 31 August.

For tickets, visit rsc.org.uk    

Sue Hull ****


4 Stars on Fri, 22 Feb 2019

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