As You Like It
Wilton’s Music Hall, London until May 14 (and touring)
Producer: Northern Broadsides/New Vic
Director: Laurie Sansom
Cast: Bailey Brook, Isobel Coward, Shaban Dar, Gemma Dobson, Terri Jade Donovan, Claire Hackett, Reuben Johnson, Adam Kashmiry, Joe Morrow, Jo Patmore, Robin Simpson, EM Williams.
Running time: Just under three hours including interval
Shakespeare famously was for all time, and yet this version of As You Like It feels uniquely relevant to our age.
Specifically, it could have been written for the lithe, elfin, non-binary actor EM Williams, who makes Rosalind’s decision to persuade Orlando to woo her while disguised as a boy shepherd, supposedly to cure him of his love, seem the most natural response possible to the drama of “boy meets girl”.
Under the direction of Laurie Sansom, who embraces the infinite scope for interpretation established by the title, EM Williams’ Rosalind is particularly dominant, but that does not prevent Joe Marrow as an uproarious cross-dressing Touchstone from doing his utmost to steal the show.
In a play that arguably has many components greater than the whole, Touchstone provides a wealth of standout moments. The climax is a delivery of the “lie seven times removed” speech so warmly received he delivered it twice in the performance I saw.
Broader humour derives from Touchstone’s efforts to round up sheep in the form of members of the company scampering between the coat-stands that double as sheep pens, trees and ultimately a maypole.
The coat-stands are highly pertinent as this production uses what we wear as a further means to overturn social norms.
As part of the set, clothes hang with great effect from the high ceiling of Wilton’s Music Hall, while the characters pile on and peel off wild combinations of layers and colours.
EM Williams’ Rosalind wears little more than a hooped petticoat to finally sweep away Orlando (Shaban Dar), sending up all traditions of bridal decorum. The relatively conventional couplings around, with no disrespect to the full-hearted acting of the entire cast, are effectively dismissed as of merely conventional interest.
Barbara Lewis © 2022.