Royal Shakespeare Theatre/ Stratford upon Avon
Until 28th September
Any show relies on a strong cast, and most certainly upon a strong lead.
And this is the case in this new Stratford production.
The role of Rosalind, the main character, is no mean feat, yet Pippa Nixon takes it all in her stride and carries the play magnificently. Certainly an outstanding performance, Shakespeare’s strong, cross-dressing heroine consistently has an undeniable energy and presence throughout the show as does Alex Waldmann in the role of the lovestruck Orlando. The two play a couple tingling with passion and verdure.
In such a lively show, there is no room for anything half-hearted: the entire cast, right down to the melancholy Jacques (played with peculiar humour by Oliver Ryan) exudes a dynamism that generates an uplifting atmosphere within the forest.
Arden is a place of life and liberation. In stark contrast, the royal court scenes early on have an air of cold sophistication, reflected in every sense- the costumes (all monochrome, with the exception of Touchstone’s red nose), lighting, music and stylised movement reflect cool emotional detachment and oppression.
The forest, on the other hand, is dominated by warm lighting, colourful costumes and folk music that would not be out of place at a music festival.
It is only natural then that music and dance play a large part, with a small band near the back of the stage accompanying much of the onstage revelry, right down to renditions of Orlando’s clumsily written love poetry. The duke’s court in particular seems fond of breaking out into dance whenever they feel like it, reinforcing the play’s theme of freedom.
The set itself isn’t incredibly intricate. There are no huge, grand structures. But director Maria Aberg certainly doesn’t let anything go to waste, right down to a mini fridge which sees liberal use, not least in how often actors leap upon it or consume the beer within.
The only obvious point of criticism is an adlibbed section within the second half in which the fool Touchstone talks directly with an audience member. Whether this is to buy time for a costume change or otherwise, it feels like a cheap method of getting laughs, more akin to a local or school Christmas show than professional theatre.
Besides the lovers Rosaland and Orlando, commendable performances were everywhere. Nicolas Tennant is sharp as Touchstone, Natalie Klamar absolutely milks the comedy of country bumpkin Phoebe and David Fielder endows the role of elderly Adam with a kind gentleness.
But a play cannot possibly hold the level of energy that this production did without full input from the entire cast. And this was certainly delivered.
+Tickets: 0844 800 1110