The New Vic and Northern Broadsides’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like it is a funny, moving, powerful and bold version of the much-loved comedy.
The original play was believed to have been written in 1599, first published in 1623, and while its first performance is uncertain, it’s thought to have been at Wilton House, in 1603.
One thing is certain though – this refreshing and inclusive restorative performance from these two wonderful theatre companies is a must watch.
For those who have never seen As You Like It, as I hadn’t, here’s a quick overview of the plot.
“In a stylish but stifling court, where the Duke is all powerful and brute strength is championed over basic human decency, the high-spirited Rosalind and devoted cousin Celia are no longer welcome. When they escape into the forest in disguise, they bump into the recent object of Rosalind’s affection, Orlando, leading to an elaborate game of fluid identity where all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.
“As the seasons change in this magical place, normal roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in a celebration of the transformative power of love and the natural world, featuring some of Shakespeare’s most vivid characters and memorable poetry.”
This play has been so strongly cast, with diversity and inclusivity at the core of the story, it’s amazing to see such a range of faces, cultures and identities represented. Among the 12 Northern performers is Terri Jade Donovan, who is disabled, hard of hearing and neurodivergent, playing the comical Audrey and non-binary performer EM Williams, who plays lead Rosalind.
As You Like It sees characters step through the Narnia-esque wardrobe into the Forest of Arden, where the social constructs of identity and gender fluidity are explored, and the way in which its experienced by individuals, and the factors that can effect them, from relationships to conflict. New names and personalities are tried on for size, with the hierarchies of class and status thrown far out of the window.
Cabaret performer Joe Morrow was a fabulous Touchstone, where the drag artist constantly had the audience in stitches. Their wardrobe was fantastic, as was the whole casts, thanks to designer E.M Parry – a trans-disability artist who specialises in Queer bodies and narratives.
Melancholy Jacques, played by Adam Kashmiry, brought contrast in observing, disputing and offering the voice of the devil’s advocate. And speaking of contrast, it was brilliant to see the performers play two totally different characters each, that in the court, and another in the forest, really stretching and showcasing their skills.
Some wonderfully comical WWE-like fight scenes were directed by Bethan Clark, but other quick-witted quips – mostly from Touchstone – brought a lightheartedness to the performance that was well timed and well executed, and sometimes a little bonkers, such as the goat scene.
Phoebe, played by Gemma Dobson, gave me real Ellie and Izzy from Gogglebox vibes, while Isobel Coward, playing Celia’s, subtle sarcasm and facial expressions – even when the limelight wasn’t directly on her – showed how attention to detail has been paramount in the production.
For those who haven’t seen a single Shakespeare piece in your life, fear not. If you enjoy shows like The Witcher, then you’ll quickly get your head around the language and the feel of the era.
As You Like It is an intimate, powerful and respectful performance which begs the question ‘can all the men and women be whoever they want to be?’, given the opportunity and acceptance.
The show is being performed at the New Vic until Saturday, February 26, celebrating the theatre’s 60th anniversary alongside Northern Broadsides’ 30th. Tickets are from £18.50, with captioned and audio described shows also available.