Sunday, 31 January 2016

As You Like It - directed by Polly Findlay, National Theatre London

Initially, we were distracted by a really misguided set - a facsimile call centre or some other kind of modern employment nightmare, where Orlando is office cleaner & his brother supervisor. It is peopled by a dozen or so men & women in bright pink or yellow jackets and its colour scheme takes its lead from licorice allsorts. Rosalind and Celia thread their way between the computer terminals, and the wrestling scene is set up at the front of the stage, with all the call centre staff as audience, (is my recollection wrong or does it usually take place out of sight?) The setting is never explained and makes no sense, so far as I can see.
Luckily, in the end the misguided set design does not matter, as it turns out to be the one and only weak element in the whole production. The important thing, obviously, must always be the acting - and Polly Findlay has directed her actors brilliantly. Together they appear to have read and weighed the script, line by line, with huge intelligence and attention. And, so, despite initial visual signs to the contrary, they create a truly wonderful performance.
No one in the cast is weak, but I can’t help mentioning how particularly winning Patsy Ferran is as Celia. Just looking at her can make you laugh. Rosalie Craig is also very good as Rosalind , and Paul Chahidi reveals a much stranger, more interesting and funnier Jaques than I have seen before. Even the parts of the script that may have struck me in the past as a bit toward the dull, expositiony side of the spectrum come alive in this staging. The music and choreography - plus the unusual approach to sound effects - are also brilliant and original. I did wonder if the portrayal of the sheep had been borrowed from Eamonn Flack’s production at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney. Perhaps though it is just a case of great minds thinking alike
The play runs in repertoire at the National Theatre In London until 5 March, 2016. I highly recommend it, if you have an opportunity to go.