Frederick has usurped the Duchy and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior. The Duke's daughter Rosalind has been permitted to remain at court because she is the closest friend and cousin of Frederick's only child, Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman of the kingdom who has fallen in love with Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Frederick becomes angry and banishes Rosalind from court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee together accompanied by the jester Touchstone, with Rosalind disguised as a young man.
Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede) and Celia (taking the name Aliena), arrive in the Forest of Arden . "Ganymede" and "Aliena" meet up with Corin, a shepherd, and offer to buy his master's cottage. All are unaware that the exiled Duke and some supporters are also living in the Forest
Orlando and his servant Adam find the Duke and his men, and are soon living with them and hanging love poems for Rosalind on the trees. Rosalind, also in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Ganymede says "he" will take Rosalind's place and "he" and Orlando can act out their relationship.
Meanwhile, the shepherdess Phoebe, with whom Silvius (yet another shepherd) is in love, has fallen in love with "Ganymede", who continually shows that "he" is not interested in Phoebe. The cynical Touchstone has also made amorous advances towards the dull-witted goat-herd girl Audrey, and attempts to marry her before his plans are thwarted.
Finally, Silvius, Phoebe, Ganymede, and Orlando are brought together in an argument with each other over who will get whom. Ganymede says he will solve the problem, having Orlando promise to marry Rosalind, and Phoebe promise to marry Silvius if she cannot marry Ganymede. The next day, Ganymede reveals himself to be Rosalind, and since Phoebe cannot marry her, she ends up with Silvius.
Orlando sees Oliver in the forest and rescues him from a lioness, causing Oliver to repent for mistreating Orlando. Oliver meets "Aliena" and falls in love with her, and they agree to marry. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey all are married in the final scene, after which they discover that Frederick has also repented his faults, deciding to restore his legitimate brother to the dukedom.
Director: Sam Mendes
Design: Tom Piper
Costume: Catherine Zuber
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Sound: Simon Baker
Music: Josh Prince
Choreographer: Josh Prince
Orlando: Christian Camargo
Jaques: Stephen Dillane
Charles the Wrestler: Ron Cephas Jones
Rosalind: Juliet Rylance
Touchstone: Thomas Sadoski
Celia: Michelle Beck
Phoebe: Ashlie Atkinson
Audrey: Jenni Barber
Oliver: Edward Bennett
Adam: Alvin Esptein
Le Beau: Jonathan Fried
Amiens: Richard Hansell
Silvius: Aaron Krohn
Corin: Anthony O'Donnell
Dukes Frederick and Senior: Michael Thomas
Of all the stories Shakespeare never wrote, this has to be the stupidest of them. Him Indoors has been known to clasp his hands together and go all misty-eyed when talking about this play, often waxing lyrical along the lines of “[adopts Zippy from “Rainbow” voice] Oh, the imagery breaks through just like the first daffodils of spring, Jeffrey” (although this resonance is lost in this production as the seasons leapfrog from deepest winter to golden autumn rather than to early spring, as is usual with this play). Me, I sit there with “that” face on muttering about complete lack of credibility, an even lamer “Clown” character than normal (if humanly possible) and the fact that the “Ganymede” scenes just go on and on and on and make me want to scream (what also made me want to scream was the lack of synopsis in the programme – a worrying development about which more anon). Honestly, there really is something that gets my goat about this play and I’d be quite happy if I never had to sit through all that bloody nancing about in the fecking Forest of fecking Arden ever again.
Happily, I’d been suffering through a bout of severe insomnia over the previous three or four nights, and a seat in a darkened theatre on a warm evening was practically the perfect cure for this. I just switched completely off, shut my eyes, rested my head against the lighting desk behind me and dozed my way through more or less the entire evening (only the second time I have ever done this – I didn’t see much of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? either and frankly think I had a lucky escape), only surfacing occasionally during the rare occasions on which the audience tittered. One thought did occur to me early on in the play (at a point when I was still vaguely alert) and that was – if Rosalind and Celia are going into hiding in the forest, their plan would only be successful if both disguised themselves. Rosalind gets in touch with her inner dyke and dresses up as a bloke – but Celia’s “disguise” consists merely of changing her name. Oh yeah, that’s really gonna fool people, Sherlock. As is the Duke’s wheeze of hiding out in the forest of frigging Arden with a load of courtiers and hoping nobody will notice.
Anyway, I didn’t really see enough of this to give anything like a proper review, but I can tell you that it was a modern-dress production (LAZY!), that Juliet Rylance confuses “projection” with “SHOUTING”, that Stephen Dillane’s impression of Bob Dylan is not funny, merely as excruciatingly embarrassing (if not more so) as Mandy Patinkin in Paradise Found and that the clowning role of Touchstone is as hysterically amusing as a bad dose of piles. there was also some of the most embarrassingly bad stage fighting I've seen in a long, long time. Perhaps I might have been persuaded to pay a bit more attention if I’d known what was going on – this not being my favourite play I’ve never really got my head around exactly what is happening and, scanning through the programme to try and find a synopsis for a quick bit of boning up, realised that The Old Vic is going the same way as The National and not putting any plot outlines in their programmes. Its all very well having erudite and fascinating essays about Shakespeare’s inside leg measurement and what he may or may not have had for breakfast on the day of the first performance if you don’t have a clue what the feck is going on and haven’t had a chance to look it up beforehand (Him Indoors offered me the use of his “Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare” afterwards, which is aimed at 7 – 10 year olds, showing nicely what he thinks of my intellectual capabilities. Cheers Hon!).
Anyway, the seat was very comfortable and I enjoyed my nap.
What the critics who stayed awake thought: