Review: As You Like It

It's just as I like it


Boy meets girl, who pretends to be boy, who in turn pretends to be a girl.

Confused? Well, this is one of Shakespeare's more ridiculous comedies - a sort of Four Weddings and No Funeral.

In his day of course, matters were even more perplexing because the girl playing the boy playing the girl would actually have been played by a boy.

Thankfully, we now allow women to grace our stages. Which is just as well because this show belongs to the utterly fabulous Cush Jumbo as the boy/girl Rosalind/Ganymede.

She is captivating from her first appearance, all elegant and girly in a ball gown, and throughout her tomboy performance as a streetwise rapper in jeans, baseball cap and hoodie.

It's four weddings and no funeral

She wrings out every last laugh from the gender confusion, her infatuation with Orlando (Ben Batt, from The Promise), her attempts to "cure" him of his being in love and the tantalising anticipation that underlies her "look but don't touch" wooing .

At one point, the lovers embrace for a moment - then pull apart as Orlando remembers Rosalind is not really a girl (although she actually is) and Rosalind remembers she is supposed to be a boy.

There is much else to praise here, not least Rosalind's cousin and best pal Celia (Kelly Hotton). The two of them positively spark off each other.

The play's title gives directors carte blanche. Greg Hersov has clearly relished the opportunity to have a bit of fun, introducing an elaborate wrestling scene, complete with red mat and bunny girls. It is here that Orlando, as the bare-chested underdog, wins the favour of Rosalind.

The modern dress consists largely of Gore-Tex and fell boots, as most of the action takes place in the great outdoors. The Forest of Arden is alive with the sound of music.

A huge tangle of speakers descends periodically and takes the place of the trees, to which the lovesick Orlando, in more traditional productions, would pin his billets doux. There is also a rousing skiffle performance as a finale.

It is a game of two unequal halves. There is an hour of scene setting. Shakespeare, bless him, rarely made do with four or five characters when he could run to a cast of thousands, but they all need an introduction.

The second part is where the fun really takes off, and where the boy/girl confusion between Rosalind and Orlando gets seriously ridiculous. Performances all round are pretty faultless, most notably Ian Bartholomew as Touchstone.

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