David Thacker's production divides brutally around the interval. in the first half life at the Gothic Stalinist court (reminiscent at moments of Gormenghast) is arbitrary and distraught, and exile in the wintry Forest of Arden no better – a huge bare tree affords no shelter, and the lords' carolling keeps coming out in doleful minor keys. Spring arrives, however, while you're in the bar at half-time: leafy bowers, a plashing pool, merry catches and (wondrous!) jokes.
Such a stark vision does no-one many favours, least of all Samantha Bond, whose Rosalind is deprived of any "holiday humour" either toward her companion Celia or suitor Orlando until the tone has been irredeemably established. It's left to the abrasive feistiness of Anthony O'Donnell's Touchstone to do what he can to salvage things, and Michael Siberry to command attention as a Jaques whose melancholy verges on schizophrenia. But the whole is unsatisfying; we know the world isn't like Shakespeare's festive comedies – that's why we have Shakespeare's festive comedies. Thacker sacrifices the play itself to his over-reductive vision of it, and in the process loses sight of the Forest for the trees.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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