Nowadays, productions of As You Like It are often sensitive to the political content of the play. Duke Frederick is a tyrant, after all, and the Forest of Arden a liminal space where all kinds of conventions are negotiated. Michael Boyd’s production at The Roundhouse takes on board and enforces these ideas. The strength of his vision results in an As You Like It that is as startling as it is entertaining.
It’s snowing in this Forest of Arden. This arcadia is populated by the dispossessed. Heading up a fugitive court with an edge of desperation about it, the exiled Duke Ferdinand (Clarence Smith) has a harrowed look and Jaques’ melancholy makes a lot of sense. Boyd directs his cast towards a deadpan delivery that modern comic sensibilities will appreciate. With Forbes Masson’s Tim Minchin-inspired Jaques this really pays off. Masson’s is a terrific performance – direct, deep and very funny.
Boyd’s treatment is both realistic and high pitched. The court seems an almost gothic place. The best wrestling scene I have ever witnessed is a bloody match between Orlando (Jonjo O’Neill) and Charles (David Carr), who look more like cage fighters than gentlemen at sport. And vegetarians might wish to linger at the bar after the interval in order to miss a rabbit being skinned on stage.
Spring comes to Tom Piper’s minimal design, as his wall of squares opens up to allow shoots of greenery. Not just the auditorium, but also the whole of the Roundhouse is bedecked with Orlando’s verses. It’s an idea the RSC is expanding on with its Adelaide Road project: commissioning the poet Aoife Mannix to conduct writing workshops around the stories of Camden residents, and a promenade on the 14 May along the street that connects The Roundhouse with the RSC’s other London home, The Hampstead Theatre.
Back in Boyd’s forest, things become increasingly enchanting. There is always an edge to this Arden: the dreams and fantastic beasts are frightening, Sophie Russell’s Audrey is hilarious but a little cruel and Richard King’s Touchstone plays too close to the edge for comfort. Yet what romance the play contains bursts out and the real joy of the evening is Katy Stephens’ Rosalind. Hers is a star turn that makes the whole play revolve around her character. Rosalind’s intelligence is combined with a giddy energy in an enormously physical performance that is not to be missed.
As You Like It plays in rep until 5 February 2011
Photo by Ellie Kurttz
Written 18 January 2011 for The London Magazine
In a week when political assassination is once more in the news, Julius Caesar might seem more relevant to a contemporary audience than ever. The RSC’s production at The Roundhouse could never presage such current events, but the evening gives us plenty to think about. Director Lucy Bailey thrills by her engagement with history.
Lucy Bailey’s Rome is a bloody place. In the opening scene we see Romulus and Remus wrestling to the death – a bloodlust is the city’s heritage from its founders. Working with designer William Dudley and inspired by the recent Rome TV show, Bailey intelligently toys with our notions of the Romans as civilised. Video projections increase the stage presence of the Plebeians (a character in their own right) to great effect – this is a dangerous mob that rules the Empire on a whim.
Greg Hicks is a natural Caesar. Even eclectically garbed as some kind of generic Barbarian, he is commanding enough to cast a necessary shadow over the play. The evening’s highlight is Darrell D’Silva’s Mark Antony. A “masker and a reveller”, he seems drunk on grief and then violence. Reminiscent of Oliver Reed, it is a captivating performance that will make you want to see him reprise the role in Antony and Cleopatra, also part of this year’s season.
However, Julius Caesar is really the story of Brutus and Cassius. Here Brutus (Sam Troughton) is something like a monk; he is dressed like one and even gestures a benediction in a performance that invokes the play’s religious context. To bring complexity to their coalition, John Mackay attempts to make Cassius more than just a Machiavellian figure. Both are interesting ideas and yet, while there are moments of moving intimacy between the conspirators, both strategies fail to hold interest.
All the cast of Julius Caesar are martial. The characters are at home in Bailey’s world and her direction makes sense of the play’s long combat scenes, invariably presented with clarity and dynamism. Yet they disappoint, and we are hard pushed to share the opinion that Brutus was the “noblest Roman of them all”. What should be his tragedy may interest us but ultimately fails to move us emotionally.
Julius Caesar plays in rep until 5 February 2011
Photo by Ellie Kurttz
Written 11 January 2011 for The London Magazine
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new London season arrives with the announcement of a five-year partnership with Camden’s Roundhouse. Artistic director Michael Boyd is enamoured of the venue, describing it as both intimate and epic, and the transfer of the Stratford production of The Winter’s Tale helps us to share his excitement.
David Farr’s direction makes the most of the specially constructed thrust stage, which mirrors the company’s current home in Stratford. The format has clearly focused Farr, and his direction is startlingly clear. Jon Bausor’s design takes inspiration from the ballads of Shakespeare’s day, cleverly enforcing the telling of this winter tale and decking Sicilia and Bohemia with so much paper we might feel we are enveloped in the Forest of Arden.
Greg Hicks’ mellifluous voice is always a delight, and he plays the jealous Leontes with a restraint that marks his maturity. Kelly Hunter is his victimised wife Hermione, tackling the role with a moving humility. Also of note in this industrious ensemble are the appealing young lovers who become the focus of the play’s redemptive power: Florizel and Perdita (Tunji Kasim and Samantha Young). It would be refreshing to encounter the role of the Young Shepherd without a Welsh accent, but at least Gruffudd Glyn’s moniker indicates he is entitled to the part, and he puts in a great comic turn.
Farr’s direction enforces the judicial themes within The Winter’s Tale, drawing the audience in to play the role of arbiter. The moving text’s complex moral exploration and emotional impact are developed wonderfully, and the staging makes escaping into the fantasy of The Winter’s Tale easy. It all bodes well for the RSC’s future at The Roundhouse.
The Winter’s Tale plays until 1 January 2011. The RSC’s London season is at The Roundhouse until 4 February 2011.
Photo by Alessandro Evengelista
Written 17 December 2010 for The London Magazine