Shakespeare can sometimes feel a little distant and predictable – they all get married, or they all die, and in between we have some tricky language – but Lucy Phelps’ stunningly energetic performance means this time we see it all anew.
Her portrayal of Rosalind is lively, modern, and entirely captivating. This isn’t because of some tricksy affectations or Kimberley Sykes’ direction transporting it to some alien setting: the set is timeless, and costumes cross centuries.
It is because Phelps lives the character and makes the words hers: breathless and manic in love; distraught and sorrowful in exile. She uses the full stage and her full self to bring to life someone giddy and besotted.
She is brilliantly paired with Sophie Khan Levy as Celia, who bounds across the stage joyously and is a sceptical and sisterly companion. She is also very funny: a scene where she hides by flipping her voluminous skirt over her head is great comic theatre.
Similarly Sandy Grierson makes an excellent fool as Touchstone, his gaunt appearance and spangly clothes bringing something of Iggy Pop to the stage. He takes a pantomime approach, and it works brilliantly.
The one flat note is Sophie Stanton as Jacques. Charged with some of the plays most famous lines – “All the world’s a stage…” and the seven ages of man – she mostly drifts though in a sort of stunned melancholy. While most of the exiled court have taken well to their new forest-dwelling lives, she has not – and we never really get a sense of why.
Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set is abstract and simple, and Bretta Gerecke’s lighting pairs with Sykes’ direction for some wonderful set piece moments, using spots and house lighting to shift the audience in and out of the action and weave some more magic through the piece.
This is a brilliant and boisterous production that Phelps leads with extraordinary skill. It is a welcome burst of colour and light in a dull winter.
As You Like It is at Barbican Theatre, London until January 18, 2020, then on tour until April. Cinema screenings will take place on April 27.