Court in the first act
Aleks Sierz previews a Shakespeare comedy which re-orders the scenes
One of Shakespeare's most evergreen plays, As You Like It, starts with a bitter battle between two brothers, Orlando and Oliver, and then the plot takes off when Rosalind and Celia flee the court for the magical Forest of Arden. Rosalind, disguised as a man, meets Orlando, who loves her. Safe in her disguise, she makes him act out his courtship of her. Director Mark Thomson says: "When I first read this play, in my early 20s, I was very attracted by the idea of Arden. But it didn't feel like a real forest to me; it felt like a rite of passage for young people: a state you have to travel through in order to achieve enlightenment, a process of growing up."
In his production, Thomson has reordered the scenes, grouping all of those set at court at the start of the play. "Dramaturgically, what Shakespeare was doing when he intercut these brief court scenes with the early Arden scenes was saying, 'Meanwhile, back at the ranch.' I found that when you grouped them together they had a rhythm and were stronger."
The court "is like a heightened form of urban life today: it's a world of ambition, conflict and competition. A driven, fast and fickle world, very masculine. In the text, oddly enough, there is no indication of why Oliver hates Orlando. In fact, at one point, Oliver says: 'I know not why.' So you have this world that moves so fast, it's forgotten why it is what it is."
By contrast, "Arden is a much more feminine and creative world. It's a place of reflection and re-evaluation, a place where love, music and forgiveness can transcend the literal. There's room there for silence, for magic and for transformation. Arden is a state of mind."
Thomson sees Rosalind's strength as "the ability to see things honestly and clearly. At the start she's at court, where women are treated as if they are just decoration. In Arden, she blossoms through love and learns how important it is to listen. Arden is all about selfdiscovery. Through her disguise, she finds out about herself."
What Thomson loves about the play is its lack of cynicism. "In our contemporary culture," he says, "cynicism and irony rule. But As You Like It shows the power of innocence and idealism - the forces of good." And he's confident that young audiences will connect with that.
l The RSC's production of As You Like It runs in Stratford-upon-Avon until October 13, tel: 0870 609 1110; and at the Novello, London, March 2-25, tel: 0870 9500940