Wyndham’s Theatre, London WC2
Opened 21 June, 2005

Jude Law is a great supporter of the Young Vic Theatre. It’s currently being rebuilt, but meanwhile, its artistic director David Lan is in charge of this West End Shakespeare production, which stars Law’s squeeze Sienna Miller.  Am I alone in detecting a leeetle bit of luvvie politics at work here?  Miller has the talent of your average enthusiastic school-play actor, but on this showing, no more than that.

It’s a starry cast. The main role of Rosalind – you know, the girl who hides in a forest disguised as a boy and then gets the man she loves to woo “him” by “pretending” that “he” is Rosalind(!) – is taken by Helen McCrory, who has all the vivacity and fizz the part demands.  Her jester Touchstone is played by comic Sean Hughes, of whom more later.  And the melancholy Jaques is Reece Shearsmith of the League of Gentlemen.

David Lan has set the production in post-war Paris. It makes sense for some of the more philosophical speeches, and allows them to use evocative music for the play’s many songs, but much else about it is somewhat bewildering.  Why pronounce some names and words the French way and others not? Why have the rustics talk in ’Allo ’Allo accents but not the nobles, who are just as French?  It’s a slapdash approach to the idea.

Clive Rowe, who combines acting skills with a sweet, belting jazz tenor voice, plays the exiled Duke as a kind of musical director to his courtiers.  Sean Hughes is excellent at coining new material to freshen up Shakespeare’s often stale clowning routines, but he also wastes a lot that’s still decent.  What’s more, he and Sienna Miller in particular don’t enunciate or project too well, so their words can get lost.

Reece Shearsmith is a fine actor, but I can’t help feeling his Jaques has been directed to do certain lines in certain ways rather than allowed to find an overall reading that flows naturally.  It’s all rather a curate’s egg, really.  And the saddest thing is that McCrory’s excellence will get far less media attention than the more celeb-y names, even though those are attached to the least glittering of the performances.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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