Where: Royal Exchange, Manchester
When: 29 June – Saturday 6 August, 2011
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” – a ‘Bard’ classic
Greg Hersov’s modern production of Shakespeare’s gloriously sunny comedy brings the current Exchange season to a close, with its exuberant combination of concealed identities, verbal jousting, reconciliations and multiple weddings.
The play focuses on Rosalind who is banished by her uncle and flees to the Forest of Arden where, dressed as a boy to avoid discovery, she encounters Orlando, the man she loves. Full of great characters, some of old Will’s most famous words, singing, dancing and jokes, the play shows a fragmented, bitter and broken world being made into something completely different.
Cush Jumbo steals the show with her outstanding performance as both Rosalind and her alter ego, the hip hop dude Ganymede. The actress, who was nominated in last year’s MEN Theatre awards, plays the lead role with truth, comic timing and brings the character of Ganymede into the 21st century so it has relevance to the youth of today.
Playing alongside Jumbo as Orlando is a disappointing Ben Batt (Shameless, Scott & Bailey), who despite acting out scenes of despair and love, had a strong Manchester accent that provided too little light and shade. It may have been a deliberate move by the director for Batt to keep his ‘manc twang’ for the role but it really stood out from the rest of the cast and was monotone in its delivery.
A mention must be given to actress Kelly Hoppen who plays a fun loving Celia, her onstage bond with Rosalind makes you fully believe in the strength of their friendship. Ian Bartholomew, as Touchstone, provides most of the laughs throughout the play and gets the audience to participate with the action, without hesitation. He even managed to have the theatre in stitches even before uttering his first words – dressed in the White Rabbit costume a la ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (complete with bunny ears and furry tail)!
The great thing about productions at the Royal Exchange is that they don’t have to contain jaw dropping sets in order to draw you into the story. ‘As You Like It’ designer Ashley Martin-Davis’ minimalist approach uses earth coloured speakers dangling from above ceiling managed to evoke the woodland sounds and atmosphere of the Forest of Arden.
At 3 hours (including interval) I felt the production was too long, although I’m not sure how they could have made it any shorter. On the whole though this is a superbly acted production which manages to make Shakespeare understandable, even for those who are ‘Bard’ virgins.
Well worth the numb bum and bulging bladder at the end!
Written by Michelle Eagleton, if you’d like to contact Michelle please email on firstname.lastname@example.org