'As You Like It' - Royal Shakespeare Company 2019 - Review

This is a Royal Shakespeare Company stage production of "As You Like It" - as such, it's not surprising it's not in Wikipedia or Rotten Tomatoes, but it was released on DVD (available through Toronto Public Library) so I thought it would be in IMDB ... but it doesn't appear to be. This review isn't about the text or plot (which I've read and seen many times) but about the presentation itself.

As is common these days, they're tinkering with characters and presentation (but very little with the words). This includes shifting Jacques' gender from male to female, as well as Le Beau (a fairly minor character), and most dubiously, Silvius the shepherd becomes "Sylvia," shifting one of the courting couples from man-and-woman to woman-and-woman. We also have Sir Rowland de Boys three sons, each an entirely different race - which is a mite disorienting. I mention these things not because I object, but out of interest: using the best actress or actor for the job is fine by me ... But I do question the choice of "Sylvia" who was a poorer actress than most of the rest of the staff. It brings the gender choice into question: did you do it just to mess with Shakespeare, or to get the best person for the job? Because the play was made slightly worse by substituting a woman there. Think about the ending: Ganymede becomes Rosalind and "cannot" marry Phebe because she's a woman ... but then Phebe marries another woman, Sylvia. Kind of breaks the logic of the play.

They've added more songs: this is already the Shakespeare play with the most songs, more weren't needed. They've made it goofier: it's a Shakespeare comedy, it's already absurd and goofy, why go more?

Some things I did like:

  • Orlando wins a prize wrestling, the Duke takes it away when he finds out that Orlando is Rowland de Boys son (there's no stage direction to this effect - there are no stage directions at all), which means Rosalind's gift to Orlando is - as well as a token of affection - a sign of respect for his triumph and a replacement of her uncle's retracted gift
  • several actors play different characters at court and in the forest - and they change clothes on stage as the scenery is changed behind them:
    • most notably one guy plays the two dukes: which Shakespeare may well have done when he staged the play (this arrangement is also in Branagh's version, and may in fact be fairly common?)
    • which cleverly ties into the "All the world's a stage" speech, with "And one man in his time plays many parts"

One last issue: the actors shout and over-act, because they're on a stage playing to the attending audience. I haven't been to an actual play in five or six years, and the experience is different being there compared to seeing it filmed anyway. But I watch movies all the time and this is in effect, "a movie" ... so the overacting seems out of place. (And yet I had no problem with the limited and relatively barren sets ...)

A final observation that's a feature of the play rather than this performance: Touchstone the clown is a truly horrible person. I knew this, but I guess I get reminded every time.

2019, dir. Kimberley Sykes. With Lucy Phelps, Antony Byrne, Sophie Khan Levy, Sandy Grierson, Emily Johnstone, Graeme Brookes, Leo Wan, Aaron Thiara, David Ajao, Richard Clews, Sophie Stanton, Laura Elsworthy, Amelia Donkor, Charlotte Arrowsmith.