14 Jul As You Like It
Directed by Andrew Hilton
20 March – 26 April
Production Photos © 2003 Alan Moore
For the second time we set a production in the eighteenth century, this time to exploit that time’s version of ‘pastoral’.
Rupert Ward Lewis Orlando
Eric Jay Adam
Alex MacLaren Oliver
Dan Winter Dennis
Tom Sherman Charles
Rebecca Smart Celia
Saskia Portway Rosalind
David Plimmer Touchstone
Jamie Ballard Le Beau
Peter Clifford Frederick
Mark Hesketh Palace Lord
John Nicholas Duke Senior
Jonathan Nibbs Amiens
Dan Winter 1st Forest Lord
Tom Sherman 2nd Forest Lord
Mark Hesketh 3rd Forest Lord
Richard Stephenson Guitarist
Paul Nicholson Corin
Joseph Mawle Silvius
John Mackay Jaques
Lisa Kay Audrey
Amanda Horlock Phebe
Peter Clifford Sir Oliver Martext
Jamie Ballard William
Tom Sherman Jaques de Boys
Director Andrew Hilton
Designer Andrea Montag
Lighting Designer Paul Towson
Composer John Telfer
Fight Director Kate Waters
Fight Captain Peter Clifford
Edition Dominic Power
Choreographer Philippa Waite
Scenic Artist Francesca Maxwell
Costume Supervisor Jane Tooze
Costume Maintenance Jacqui Jones
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
Production Manager Clive Stevenson
Stage Manager Amy Bull
Technical Stage Manager Christian Wallace
Assistant Stage Manager Polly Meech
The Sunday Times … It is tiresome to have to use a small, unsubsidised company in the suburbs of Bristol to beat the great RSC about the head, but one lesson Boyd and his team might learn from the Tobacco Factory’s As You Like It is that it is time to return to basics. Stop spending money on big, ugly sets. Concentrate your (and the audience’s) mind on the space, the actors, the words. If you have spare money, spend it on costumes. Those were the priorities of the Elizabethan managers.
This does not mean that Andrew Hilton’s production has no design. Andrea Montag has seen to it that the odd table and chair or the wooden fence in Arden are placed and angled in this open space to maximum dramatic advantage. Only the clothes and Oliver de Boys’s desk signal to you that you are in 18th-century France. This is the kind of simplicity that is the mark of sophistication and intelligence.
Saskia Portway is a real princess, proud and poised, grave and moody, with a sense of humour that is both playful and self-deprecating, but which can also explode in fiery sarcasm. Clearly, the point of making Orlando (Rupert Ward Lewis) woo her is not just a cross-gender game: it is to test him to see how strong his love is, how much hassle he can handle. This is an enchanting performance, not only because it is so irresistibly feminine, but also because of its sheer psychological cunning: Portway knows exactly when Rosalind’s love and impatience begin to push and struggle against her masculine disguise and that, as she lovingly manipulates Orlando, she is also getting to know herself.
John Mackay turns in another elegantly understated performance. His Jaques is the kind of sociable misfit who needs company to be uncompanionable. He combines eager curiosity with polite but sardonic misanthropy. Friendship may be a temptation because it offers material for grumbling, but first you must make it clear that you do not want it for its own sake.
Hilton’s attention to each character is loving, precise and critical, but never clinical: each comes to life, but each has his secrets. The speaking of this miraculous text, both verse and prose, is excellent: director and actors are attentive to every line.
“Cover your head,” says Touchstone to William, who has just taken off his cap. In the RSC production, William never takes his cap off, and stares at Touchstone in bafflement, as well he might. The first rule of directors: listen to the words. John Peter
‘tragical comical historical pastoral’
In Hamlet, when Polonius commends the players as ‘the best in the world’ for every kind of drama, he rightly gives pastoral equal billing alongside tragedy, comedy and history. Libraries of pastoral poetry and pastoral romance have come down to us from Shakespeare’s time – and no doubt much more has been lost. For the Elizabethan aristocracy in particular, it was a key genre, a key language.
Pastoral sees shepherds and shepherdesses falling in and out of love amid an Arcadian landscape inherited from the Greek and Latin poets. Unlike their real-life namesakes, they are creatures of leisure, articulate and whimsical. They sit on grassy knolls, or by babbling brooks, on sunlit May mornings, soliloquising or discoursing of passion while their grateful sheep gambol contentedly at their feet. They are an urban dream of the simple life and of fresh uncomplicated love.
The dream has resurfaced in later centuries, notably during the classical revival in the eighteenth century where we set this production. For although it is unworldly – because it is unworldly – it answers a longing central to romance. Hero and heroine, while they invariably have the education and sensibility that only the wealthy can afford, have no parents, no status and no inheritance. Unlike their readers, therefore, they are free to love and to marry whom they will. No-one is watching them, planning their alliances or measuring their wealth. Love is pure and untramelled.
In As You Like It Shakespeare contrives a situation where his own hero and heroine can imitate such freedom, while having their genesis in the real world. Rosalind is banished from the court by her jealous uncle, and Orlando has to take flight from a homicidal brother. So by necessity they both become orphan inhabitants of the forest – Rosalind quite literally a shepherd, Orlando a member of an outlaw band. While Orlando does to some extent follow the pastoral pattern – hanging the trees with extravagant odes – Rosalind uses her freedom to batter at pastoral’s hyperbole and explore the very identity and validity of passion. In the great scenes between the two, pastoral is surpassed but also honoured. In the ‘fever’ and ‘madness’ of their love its language is ultimately found to have its place and its truth. Andrew Hilton