Mediocracy at its most beautiful: AS YOU LIKE IT at the National Theatre, Olivier

I really don't like As You Like It at all. It's a Shakespeare play that has never captured me and I find the story to be boring, unexciting and in no way daring whatsoever, so it came as a shock to me when I left the National Olivier a few nights ago thinking "that was actually a really pleasant night at the theatre". I wasn't only surprised because I'm not a massive fan of the source content though; I was surprised because of the mixed reviews and opinions I'd heard about the show many months before.

I'd seriously planned to go down and see the show last fall when it first opened but when mixed reviews came flooding it, it went to the bottom of my list of things to see and I swiftly moved on. Fast forward a few months and when the opportunity came up to see it again, I snapped at it to make a judgement for myself and I'm actually sad to say that this production has since ended its run now. It was a production of a mediocre Shakespearean classic staged with such beauty and expertise that I began to question my dislike for the play.

If anything was worth seeing this show for, it was the design aspect and Rosalie Craig. The show starts in a sort of modern-day office with computers and a chorus of staff members that all appear to move in unison. After a very confusing opening, we are transported to the Forest of Arden when the floor slides away and the tables and chairs from the workplace ascend into the sky to make trees. It's perhaps one of the only set changes I have ever seen in my life that I heard applause during and it was so simple yet so effective that it actually took my breath away. Needless to say, the way they continued the show in the Forest of Arden was superb as well. The lighting made the scene so atmospheric be it daytime or nighttime in the story and the idea of having cast members hidden on seats all over the set was genius - they would use body percussion and vocal noises to create the natural sounds of the forest and it was absolutely genius.

Rosalie Craig is also a star as well (when isn't she!?) with her portrayal as this sort of modern-day Rosalind being engaging even when you had absolutely no idea as to what she was Shakespearing on about. Her performance was top class and was perhaps the highlight of the show overall; it's always a pleasure to see her exhibit grace on the stage. Patsy Ferran also made a delightful Celia to Craig's Rosalind with a sense of innocence that never managed to be so overwhelming that it became offensive; it was a nice mix of childish and sensible, which was very pleasant indeed. Paul Chahidi made a fun and lighthearted Jacques, but it felt as though he was a sort of unsuccessful comedian at times; he was funny enough to make a joke every now and then, but I didn't remember his performance all to well after the show ended. Same goes for the very well seasoned Mark Benton who played Touchstone: despite the fact that he is supposed to be the comedic relief throughout the show, I found him to be on a very similar level to Chahidi's Jacques which wasn't bad per se, but it just wasn't what the show was looking for.

All-in-all, this production was a very well led and designed production of a mediocre (at best) Shakespearean classic. Sure it was nice to see Shakespeare be modernised once again by the National (last time I saw a modern Shakespeare play there was Othello with Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear - my favourite Shakespeare production I have ever seen),  but it was even nicer to see how well designed and abstract Shakespeare can be. A visually stunning piece of work: As You Like It was beautiful.

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