“I am that he, that poor unfortunate he”
As You Like It is one of those plays that I find hard to get too excited about since I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times. And Maria Aberg’s production for the RSC came with the additional baggage of over-enthusiastic acclaim from certain quarters that usually leave me sceptical but when in Newcastle the same week as the RSC… As suspected, the Laura Marling soundtrack riled me, its folks stylings seeming somewhat faux for a reason I can’t really articulate without resorting to calling it smug. But in Pippa Nixon, it has a truly excellent Rosalind.
Set in a Glastonbury-inspired Forest of Arden, Nixon is startling as a genuinely androgynous figure once transformed, making the scenes with Alex Waldmann’s Orlando a thrilling experience in its gender-questioning ardour. And she’s a compelling presence throughout whether battling her fierce father or coaching her would-be lover in the school of romance. It all builds into a touching finale of nuptial bliss, which eventually wore down most of my scepticism, but I’m not entirely convinced that the setting works so well elsewhere.
The ducal court doesn’t fare nearly so well, nor Jaques, forced to fit into the interpretation but never quite settling. Nicolas Tennant’s Touchstone becomes genuinely funny though, surprisingly liberated from textual fidelity, and Joanna Horton’s Celia is nicely done in her Cath Kidson gear. It all adds up to something good rather than great but served nicely as a reminder that I really can see this play again and again.