13/1/11, RSC at the Roundhouse
Superfluous smoking alert (though it wasn't actually lit)
3 hrs. Michael Boyd directing once again in the demountable "travelling Courtyard" theatre which performed so well in this space during his productions of the Histories two years ago. This wasn't quite up to the same standard, with the notable exception of Katy Stephens as Rosalind, who is quite simply one of the best Shakespearean actresses I've seen. She manages to mime and telegraph reactions throughout without appearing to overdo it: she is engaging, mischievous and (at the start) immensely frustrated. An independent woman unjustly sidelined in a male-dominated world, who relishes her chance to play the guy and does it with wonderful wit and swagger.
Three weeks on and in no particular order here's some of what I remember. Arden is no Eden: it's cold and dangerous and the men go armed with greatcoats and sporting rifles and skin rabbits (real ones) on stage. The back wall and the floor alike are full of panels which open for entrances and exits. There is formal dancing at the court which manages (as they progress downstage straight towards the audience) to be really quite menacing. Orlando has an Irish accent which is strangely more unsettling than the fact that Rosalind's father is black. The comedy is broad even by the standards of a play whose comedy is frequently extremely broad: Audrey turns up for her wedding in Essex girl white high heels and very short skirt; Touchstone misfires rather as a lanky cove with a distant air, and tries unsuccessfully to entertain the audience with mooncalf clowning as we return from the interval (during which the whole auditorium is plastered with great placards carrying Orlando's poetry). Jacques (Forbes Masson) plays the guitar and sings I thought like a lugubrious Bill Bailey though everyone else says Tim Minchin (wouldn't know... never seen him). The wrestling (fights by Terry King, of course) is highly convincing and there is much blood -- so convincing indeed that when the wrestler Charles came back as a courtier with an Elastoplast on his forehead some of our party thought he'd really been injured. The costumes, in classic RSC style, start off in 16th century period but then lurch into the 20th century with the shift to Arden.
Not a production to make you think this a great play. The plotting is all over the place and afterwards I started trying to compare it unfavourably with Shakespeare's other comedies... only to realise that their plotting is all over the place as well.