REVIEW: As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Company, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Royal Shakespeare Company production of'AS YOU LIKE IT'directed by Maria Aberg
Royal Shakespeare Company production of'AS YOU LIKE IT'directed by Maria Aberg
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FLAMING torches, a Rastafarian pastor, pagan dance and a double bass.

You’ve guessed the play, of course, it’s Shakespeare’s As You Like It - or at least its latest incarnation by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I can’t deny I’m a much greater fan of the Bard’’s tragedies than I am his comedies, or whatever we’re supposed to call them these days.

My brother once described A Midsummer Night’s Dream as being nothing more than “a bunch of men prancing road the forest with a load of fairies,” and some have levelled similar accusations at As You Like It: not enough plot and depth, too much messing about in the woods.

But while some scorn the play as being of lesser quality than the Bard’s other works, others have lauded it as one of great merit.

This production definitely focuses on the play’s strong points. After decades of watching Shakespeare, I have never come away more affected by the observations and ideas offered up in his works as I did upon leaving this production of As You Like It.

Lessons in love, life, family, men, women and the world are woven thick into the plot of every Shakespeare play, but the cast and creative team have done an exemplary job of delivering them here.

As You Like It is home to the line “too much of a good thing” and the “all the world’s a stage” seven ages of man speech.

(The latter by Melancholy Jacques, played here by Oliver Ryan, whose performance throughout, for me, stole for show),

It is also features the heroine Rosalind, seen as Shakespeare’s greatest and most complete female character role.

She is expertly portrayed here by Pippa Nixon, who has already impressed with the RSC this season as Ophelia in Hamlet.

But what perhaps lifts this production to another level is the visuals, music and choreography.

The grandly-titled movement director Ayse Tashkiran’s eclectic research and inspiration for the production ranged from crowds at Glastonbury to pagan summer solstice celebrations in the West Country.

An entrancing scene featuring flaming torches and a priest clad in a paganesque deer costume was certainly enough to put me back on the edge of my seat when the my interval red wine threatened to numb my senses.

The RSC’s final production in Newcastle this year is All’s Well That Ends Well, which runs from Tuesday to Saturday.