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14/03/2020

REVIEW: As You Like It at Newcastle Theatre Royal


All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts

Royal Shakespeare Company: As You Like It 
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Thursday 19th March 2020

The arrival of the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Newcastle Theatre Royal is still something special even after all of these years. There is a buzz in the auditorium. How will this particular production of one of Shakespeare’s often performed plays compare? Very well, as it happens.

It is refreshing to see something other than the regular GCSE English Lit fodder (Romeo, Macbeth). At the interval I did ponder whether the exam boards are missing a trick if they want to get the next generation to appreciate the bard’s work. This play is fun. A light comedy with accessible themes makes it a good place to start an adventure with the playwright. It has to be said, you don’t need to have studied it in minute detail in order to understand what is going on.



This production does a bit more as the talented ensemble are happy to break the fourth wall, invite members of the audience on stage for some participation. In doing so they acknowledge that they are putting a play on in Newcastle Upon Tyne and everyone has hand sanitizer. Yes. William would approve.



Now past Shakespeare reviews have split the readers into two camps. Some want to see the plays done in a straight way which is as close to the way the audience imagine it was originally produced. Others acknowledge that Shakespeare was trying to be a popular storyteller of his time and, if he were still with us today, he would have tinkered with the formula himself. Regular readers will know that we are happy to see something different. Shakespeare can be done in a modern fashion without losing the core values. His script still shines through.



The set in this production as you enter the auditorium is deceptively simple. A swing hangs from above the arch over a large circle of grass carpet. There is also a balcony which has a group of live musicians – under MD Lindsay Miller. Orlando (David Ajao) walks over and sits on the swing. The house lights are still on though his appearance makes a hush descend over the Theatre Royal crowd in anticipation. The handful of mobile phones are tucked away quickly more rapidly than an usher with a sign. An entrance has indeed been made.



Duke Senior (Anthony Byrne) has been usurped by his younger brother Duke Frederick (also Anthony Byrne) and is in exile in the Forest of Arden. His daughter, Rosalind (Lucy Phelps) is only allowed to stay in the kingdom as she is Frederick’s daughter’s cousin and best friend. Their friendship, however leads to Celia (Sophie Khan Levy) and Rosalind assuming new identities and heading off to the forest too. Orlando, who had fallen in love with Rosalind also leaves the court after a dispute with his brother Oliver (Leo Wan). Thus after themes of family feuds, the tale goes into a comedy about the complications of love.


The court fool Touchstone (Sandy Grierson) accompanies the young women on their adventure and he is the source of a number of laughs. Sandy Grierson, David Ajao, Lucy Phelps and Sophie Khan Levy stand out amongst a very engaging cast. The whole ensemble regularly draw the audience in through their delivery. 


Director Kimberley Sykes has made good use, not just of Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set but of the wider space around the stage. This breaking down of the traditional barrier between cast and audience was effective in making this a really entertaining trip to the theatre. The action flows well too. The dead moments between scenes are reduced by a allowing the action to flow on and off the stage.


A nice touch is the live music and singing which enhances the atmosphere. It would have been nice to have a better view of the musicians but that is just my opinion.


As already mentioned, spicing up Shakespeare splits audiences. We continue to enjoy productions in which the question is posed "what would Shakespeare do in 2020?" His plays, on the whole still work and are robust enough for a bit of reworking.  They are strong enough stories for some interpretation. Having said that this show doesn't deviate that much but the feel is modern and yet the Shakespearean spirit remains. I remember seeing a different interpretation a number of years ago and, do you know what, I preferred this one.   


Review by Stephen Oliver.
Photos: Kimberley Sykes

Tickets & Show Details:
The Royal Shakespeare Company is at Newcastle Theatre Royal Wednesday 11 – Saturday 21 March 2020. Measure for Measure plays Wednesday 11, Saturday 14, Friday 20 & Saturday 21 March; As You Like It plays Thursday 12, Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Thursday 19 March; The Taming of the Shrew plays Tuesday 17, Wednesday 18, Thursday 19 & Saturday 21 March 2020 – see website for full details and performance times.

Tickets from £16.00 can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (Calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge) or book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk.


       

    

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