AS YOU LIKE IT | London, Barbican

A refreshing cutting-edge interpretation of romantic comedy As You Like It by the Royal Shakespeare Company showed how the Bard of Avon’s vital message about the madness of human desires effortlessly transcends language and time barriers under expert guidance.

Director Kimberley Sykes firmly put her leftfield stamp on this classic tale of madcap romance, erotic entanglements and crossdressing about exiled Rosalind (impishly wrung for laughs by natural comedian Lucy Phelps) who escaped into the forest with her cousin Celia (played by generous capable sidekick Sophie Khan Levy) and disguised as a shepherd, wooed Orlando (played by the agile and engaging David Ajao). 

At times Sykes ventured into almost surreal territory in this fast-paced ride from court to country, courageously breaking through the fourth wall to invite us to join the actors under a giant glitter ball.  Her vision was aided by costume and lighting designer Bretta Gerecke’s imaginative deft strokes of contemporary dress – from silver sparkly t-shirts to Paddington Bear trousers and dressing gowns! – to her subtle lighting changes to denote the brighter faster life of court and the darker slower feral world of the forest. And Sykes had an excellent cast to translate her magical vision, skilfully carrying out her stylised scene changes, physically demanding farcical comedy with a few melodic songs and poetry thrown in. Actress Emily Johnstone who played Amiens and Le Beau is one instinctive actor that was mesmerising to watch. 

But the denouement really catapulted this play into a league of its own as Sykes delivered a giant mechanical puppet overseeing the action, a suggestion perhaps that if we looked for the creator behind the strings and flung off the restrictions of our mad desires that manipulate us and direct our lives, we may just find there’s something bigger and better out there after all.  ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players …’ Engaging, outstanding and thought-provoking, I didn’t once think of Brexit, imminent world collapse or if I’ve got milk in the fridge, matchless entertainment of a universal kind. Not to be missed.

As You Like It runs until January 18th, 2020.

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