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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Royal Shakespeare Company: As You Like It Review | The Lowry | Manchester

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Pied Piper performers are leading audiences into the forest of Arden for a tall tale that reinstates justice through nature.

Following a diverse and charismatic cast of wonderfully playful characters, Shakespeare’s fractured 1599 musical comedy has had its prettiest prose paired with a multifaceted set of performances. Filled of spectacle, sentimentality and festivities, director Kimberley Sykes has chosen to take audiences behind the Lowry curtain and immerse everyone into the act.

The show’s most distinctive moments work around Shakespeare’s famous quote, “all the worlds a stage” as Sykes plays straight to the heart of the audience with an infused production that isn’t set in any specific period or place. Lifting the house lights and using audience members as props, the theatricality of the RSC production is enhanced by its exposed elements that strips back the set and servers up a melting pot of ideas. Mixing together some stand-up, improv, and a live on-stage band, the show offers up a versatile reimagining of Shakespeare’s story that gives the production a communal feel.

Due to the work of tyrannical leaders, As You Like It centres around a large group of fractured characters who each search for love after being banished by their families. Orlando’s sibling rivalry triggers his brother to plot to kill him and leads him to venture out into the forest for safety. At the same time, Rosalind’s uncle, the Duke is threatened by her power and has her exiled. With her cousin Celia and her jester willing to leave on principle, all flee the court and are drawn to the forest of Arden where their stories become tangled with the random travellers who are picked up along the way.

No tepid characters stroll through these woods. There are terrific performances from the lovestruck fool (played by Sandy Grierson) and Charlotte Arrowsmith (Audrey) as their accessible love story unravels on and off the stage. The show is headed by a strong female cast, that sees Lucy Phelps (Rosalind) and Sophie Khan Levy (Celia) enriching the story with countless scenes of witty retorts. Shakespeare’s fanciful reflection of female characters transform Rosalind in a gender-bending performance that wouldn’t have convinced Lois Lane, but Phelps’ verbal sparring, and back and forth is captivating and smooth in this uncluttered production. Syers serves a dark and earthier creation of Arden, bringing blossoming love into unfurnished surroundings by hanging swings, disco lights and an enormous puppet sculpture that commands centre stage through the final act.

The crowd-pleasing production throws a lot into the mix, including charming musical interludes (more than any other Shakespeare play), that continue to keep the flow of the show animated despite its barer set. With its band sitting on a second tier above the action and the house lights bright enough for audiences to see the crowd’s reactions, the RSC have moved As You Like It outside the box of the stage in an impactful way, layering the audience into the action and thrusting you firmly into the classic.

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