As with my visit to see Love's Labour's Lost, I have to confess that As You Like It wasn't a play I had previous seen or read (though I did know a tad more about this play than I had LLL).
I found this actually helped since I was placed in a similar position to many of my fellow friends. Especially with plays that lay outside the big exceptionally well known texts - most especially Dickie 3, Romeo and Juliet, Henry 5, and Hamlet - it can be incredibly demanding to be launched into the prose style of Shakespeare. But despite the initially spare setting of this production forcing focus on the early 'bequeath-ed' and 'sayest' speech patterns, we quickly and comfortably slipped into its rhythms.
Although not all productions have kept to Elizabethan period dress, it certainly worked here, not least because of the way in which gender identities are played with so freely (though I am reliably informed of many good productions with a modern setting). Rosalind's turn as boyish Ganymede, playing 'Rosalind' to Orlando, has to present a mastery/mistressy of layered identity - and this in a role we must not forget would have been played by a boy until the 18th century.
The language of the play includes a healthy range of Shakespeare's best known neologisms and familiar passages - not least the 'all the world's a stage' speech, but I was also pleased that I spotted some echoes of the earlier comedy of Love's Labours Lost (noted, as I read on the journey home, by scholar Juliet Dusinberre in the Arden edition of the play). As You Like It certainly has a playfulness that belies its references to the poverty that rural/forest-based life could present.
As mentioned in my post about meeting friends for this wonderful experience, the leading lady - Katy Stephens - was sadly indisposed. But this did not sadden me for one, since it meant we saw lovely Mariah Gale as Rosalind (Ophelia in last year's production opposite first Tennant and Bennett).
The setting for the play is beautifully simple: an almost white boarded background which opens up in a variety of ways. The music and choreography are, as befits the breadth of skills at the RSC, as exquisite and witty as befits the play. And although the costumes reflect the naturalistic palette of the setting, it never feels dull.
As with any ensemble production, it feels harsh to pick out particular performances for individual credit. But I have to praise Forbes Masson as Jacques who resembled Tim Minchin's wild haired appearance to such a degree that I almost had to check that it wasn't he! Richard Katz too as Touchstone was hysterically good, with suitably bawdy demeanor (it is telling these roles are the two added by Shakespeare's revision of Thomas Lodge's earlier telling of the tale).
There was also a nice touch in the final speech, wherein Rosalind usually declares that 'it is not the fashion to see the lady the Epilogue', the line was amended to 'see the understudy' in acknowledgement of Gale's substituting Stephens. Very nice I thought.
Overall, heartily recommended and on until 3 October.