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As You Like It - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Writer: Mark Johnson

Disclaimer: Tickets gifted in return for a review.

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" - one of William Shakespeare's most famous quotes and ever more befitting to this Omar Elerian's new production of As You Like It.

Geraldine James as Rosalind and Malcolm Sinclair as Orlando. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

The central premise of Elerian's production is that we're gathered in a hall to watch a group of veteran actors recreate a production of the play they performed 45 years ago. This means for the first act there is largely any set or costume and it's a real playground for the actors to have fun, and there's plenty of enjoyment along the way. 

Clever quips and nods to age are made throughout whilst some scenes are reduced to fit the aging company - take the wrestling match which becomes more of an arm wrestle but none of it feels forced or out of place. The fun the cast are having flows off the stage and the whole thing is tremendously watchable. 

Casting it for age means some of the text is played differently than normal, especially with references to youth which creates comedic moments but the sensitivity of the delivery leaves a lasting impression. The themes of finding love later in life land effectively that you are reminded that age is simply a number.

The veteran cast comes with boundless experience that breathes life into Shakespeare's colourful array of characters. At its centre is an excellent Geraldine James as Rosalind, balancing the role well, she pairs well with Malcolm Sinclair's infatuated Orlando, who wonders the imagined Forest of Arden with poems in hand as he falls head over heels in love. Maureen Beattie's Celia is a great sidekick to James' Rosalind, she cautiously aides the quest for love. 

David Fielder's sweet Silvius has the audience on his side from the get-go as you will the shepherd to capture the heart of Celia Bannerman's Phoebe who herself falls for Rosalind disguise as Ganymede. Robin Soans is rightly staunch as Duke Senior whilst playing the softer banished Duke Frederick with contemplative ease.

James Hayes as Touchstone. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
James Hayes gives a magnificently comedic take on Touchstone, constantly breaking the fourth wall with ad-libs. As he's put in ridiculous situations or costumes he breaks to remind the audience he is a "classically trained actor". Christopher Saul deputises for Jaques and is rightfully melancholic delivering the 'Seven Ages of Man' speech sat on a chair at the back of the stage with real thought although a little quiet.

The clever addition of four younger actors, Hannah Bristow, Tyreke Leslie, Mogali Masuku and Rose Wardlaw, who play supporting roles both in terms of characters and in aid of the cast as they deliver the performance. They fit in seamlessly with the world of the play and with their elders. 

Ana Inés Jabares-Pita's set design grows like a blossoming flower, as the production grows out of its roots in the rehearsal space to the eventual forest. Its simplicity allows for the focus to be on the performance whilst the mind imagines the surroundings.

Under Elerian's leadership the themes of love and age in the text land in a wonderful way, whilst the production clearly plays more for the comedic elements and laughter. It's a light and airy adaptation that shows that wherever you are in the seven ages there is always room for a bit of playing. An invigorating re-invention.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As You Like It continues at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until Saturday 5th August. Tickets are available from

Maureen Beattie as Celia, James Hayes as Touchstone and Geraldine James as Rosalind. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

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