The RSC’s theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon has a similar magic to Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s a tourist destination, a place you go to at the end of a long, pleasant day bumbling along the riverside, when you’ve spent time admiring the watery views with wine in hand. Most of all, you’re there for one reason and one reason only: bardolatry.
This isn’t to say the RSC can just shove on anything and expect the visiting hordes to lap it up, but it does mean there’s a different energy about the place, one that feeds back into what’s happening on stage. Which is perhaps why ‘As You Like It’, on in Stratford last winter, doesn’t really catch fire at the Barbican on a chilly, late-October midweek evening.
The underlying idea of Kimberley Sykes’s staging is to go metatheatrical and have the mysterious Forest of Arden as the backstage area of a theatre. Delivered as a note on a Post-it, I would absolutely be up for this concept and not just for the obvious reasons like all the self-referential lines about plays and stages Shakespeare threw into the script.
There’s something fascinating lurking in the idea of ‘backstage’ as akin to a liminal forest people are banished to. A semi-forgotten place where the ‘rules’ no longer apply. Unfortunately, this production never taps into what precisely the parallel is.
More happily, it does correct a pet peeve of mine. The faithful Celia, who follows her cousin into the forest, is so often acted as a bit of a drip or bore, the ‘nice one’ in contrast to the main event of Rosalind.
But here Sophie Khan Levy’s Celia is far more fabulous than her love-struck relative. She goes from looking a bit ‘Footballers’ Wives’ to being dressed like Anna in Disney’s ‘Frozen’, and throughout it all she’s the eye-rolling but supportive, really funny, bestie we all love. Even if the production gets a bit lost in the Barbican, she still brings some Stratford magic to the stage.