With its rambunctious female lead and sketch-show skits, As You Like It must be one of the easiest Shakespeare plays to modernise. Which makes it all the more surprising that this is the first time in 36 years the National Theatre has staged the lovestruck comedy.
And what a surprise it is. The Duke’s Court has transformed into a hum drum – but suspiciously pot plant-filled – office until, lo and behold, the floor gives way and the furniture is hoisted upwards to form the Forest of Arden, shafts of light beaming through a sea of MDF chairs like angels who’ve decided to drop into IKEA.
The set’s a tad over-designed – particularly the twit twooing actors swinging from the gods – but it’s a spectacular way to transport the audience to the second act.
Joe Bannister leads the cast as a charming yet naive Orlando wooing a manipulative Rosalind, played by Rosalie Craig. The trouble is, she’s rather too good at being a boisterous young lad and her underlying love for Orlando is unconvincing as a result. The real star of the show is Pasty Ferran as her cousin Celia, who’s utterly watchable and not unlike an impish Rowan Atkinson.
It’s an ambitious incarnation that’s as heart-warming as it is daring, even if it doesn’t always hit the right note.