Rosalind in William Shakespeare's "As You Like It" is the longest female role in the canon. This character who comes of age by disguising herself as a boy in the Forest of Arden usually is portrayed as self-assured and resourceful young woman. In the touring Theatre Royal Bath/Peter Hall Company production directed by the distinguished Sir Peter Hall, she's much more the adolescent, not always sure she's doing the right thing but forging ahead anyway. Director Hall's 22-year-old daughter, Rebecca Hall, is nothing short of revelatory in this interpretation, plumbing the emotional depths of the lovestruck, vulnerable sometimes frightened Rosalind and making her both palpable and convincing.
Her Orlando, Dan Stevens, is a bit more dense but believably determined and even heroic as he, like Rosalind, tries to survive banishment from the court of her usurping uncle. Orlando also is thoroughly smitten by Rosalind, whom he has met only briefly at court. He fails to recognize her in her male disguise, but he readily agrees to her offer to teach him how to woo Rosalind by pretending that this "boy" is Rosalind. Many productions play up the implied homoeroticism here, but director Hall treats the situation more matter of factly, actually heightening some of its comic aspects while showing how the two characters are learning about love.
And while the Forest of Arden is often seen as somewhat idyllic, designer John Gunter shows it as a cold, hardscrabble place where the banished Duke (James Laurenson) and his followers struggle to feed themselves and stay warm. However, there's more to it than the court scenes, where Gunter effectively uses a plain backdrop and only a minimum of set pieces.
The supporting cast is generally quite solid, especially Rebecca Callard as Celia, Rosalind's perky, loyal cousin; and David Birkin as Silvius, a lovestruck shepherd youth. Philip Voss plays Jaques, one of the banished Duke's lords, as not so much melancholy or cynical as philosophical. Hence his decision to leave the marriage revels at the end and to join a holy man seems in keeping with his character. It's not the sour rejection of joy seen in many other productions. And his "All the world's a stage" is beautifully wrought. The only disappointment in the cast is Michael Siberry as Touchstone, the jester who accompanies Rosalind and Celia into the forest. He just seems to be going through the paces, and his diction is mushy at times.
Peter Mumford's projections of the forest work well, but his lighting left some dark spots on opening night. The music is by Mick Sands. Designer Gunter's costumes seem based on the '30s. Many in the opening night audience were distracted by sound designer Gregory Clarke's miking, which seems unnecessary in a classical theater like the Curran. The text has far fewer cuts than usual in an American production, leading to some slow spots.
However, what will long remain in the memory is Rebecca Hall's ability to shape Rosalind into a fascinating girl maturing into womanhood and venturing into the shoals of love.
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