BWW Reviews: AS YOU LIKE IT (SCREENING), Noel Coward Theatre, November 16 2014
20 years since it was performed in the very same theatre (and 23 years after I saw this production at The Lyric, Hammersmith), a one-off screening celebrated Cheek By Jowl's, well, celebrated As You Like It. Given the serendipitous circumstances of Cheek By Jowl's Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod having their Shakespeare In Love packing them into the Noel Coward Theatre Monday - Saturday and a slightly grainy, two decades old video residing in the company's growing Sophie Hamilton Archive, it was a no-brainer. So a motley crew of students, press, interested parties and some slightly familiar faces, made their way through London's rainy, quiet Sunday night Theatreland and took their seats for the three-hour show. We were not to be disappointed.
There's just a moment of awkwardness while you work out if this is a cinematic or theatrical experience, but, especially once the sound settled down, the brain is easily fooled into believing that they are real people up there, not flickering pixels. You sit back into your seat and let the blank verse roll out over the stalls with its usual accompanying anxiety about remembering who is who.
Memory's tricksiness is no problem at all when it comes to Adrian Lester's Rosalind, his voice melting the years away, as he delivers (for the second time in my theatregoing life) one of the best Shakespearean performances I have seen. I genuinely owe all the company, but especially Mr Lester, a huge debt because, like many schoolboys forcefed The Bard just after breakfast, I had thought Shakey admirable, but far too indigestible for entertainment. 12 years after putting down my pen in my English Literature O Level examination, Lester's Rosalind showed me how much fun there was to be had in Shakespeare - something I thought about as I watched my son (sitting next to me) laugh as I had done at exactly the same performance - so thank you Cheek By Jowl, two-fold.
Though Lester is so brilliant, he does not overpower the other men in the cast, the close-ups revealing more than I had seen from 15 rows back in 1991. Simon Coates is wonderfully funny as Celia, no eyebrow left unarched and Wayne Cater's Phebe is a tour-de-force. Of course, the cross-dressing is pretty much mainstream now, so it's great to see how well the acting stands up with the gimmick of an all-male, colourblind cast provoking not so much as a shrug in 2014 (at least, everywhere except the West End perhaps).
The three girls can only have their fun (and it's a lot of fun) if the lads back it up, Scott Handy is a winning Orlando, Peter Needham an hilarious Touchstone and Michael Gardiner a melancholy Jacques, whose "All the world's a stage" monologue is still a lesson in humanity. But every last one of the 15 strong cast is superb.
Opening Night standing ovations are par for the course, but what about a quarter-century on? When many of the original cast got up to take their bows in front of the flickering images of themselves doing that very same thing, the ovation was standing and heartfelt. Please make this happen again.