As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, to Aug 31.
If “all the world’s a stage”, as the character Jacques begins his memorable speech, the net has been cast wider to find its players for this production of Shakespeare's comedy.
RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said last year the actors for this season would be a consciously diverse, in terms of “gender, ethnicity, regionality and disability”.
So a host of characters in this Forest of Arden speak in accents from around the UK, come from various ethnic backgrounds, and Charlotte Arrowsmith, who plays goatherd Audrey is deaf, with her thwarted lover William, played by Tom Dawze, delivering her signed words.
Director Kimberley Sykes has also cast women to play some of the traditionally male roles, so the speech quoted above is spoken drolly by Sophie Stanton, as the melancholy Jacques, and a shepherd’s chasing of a shepherdess becomes a lesbian pursuit.
If this all sounds too challenging, in a play where the main female love interest spends a lot of her time dressed as a man, advising her would-be lover how to woo her, it’s actually a lot of fun.
When Rosalind and Celia twirl on to the stage, party dresses on, stilettos off and prosecco glasses in hand you know you’re in for a good time. When Orlando wrestles and is then exiled, Emily Johnstone is hilarious as the ring attendant, another sex-changed role, playing her like a modern live TV presenter.
Sandy Grierson is also very entertaining as Touchstone, the Fool, clearly channelling the looks and Glaswegian background of Jerry Sadowitz.
Lucy Phelps as Rosalind and David Ajao as Orlando grab the attention from the start as their characters instantly fall in love, but it’s a true ensemble production, where comic moments executed with perfect timing, great supporting performances and a spectacular final scene make it one definitely worth seeing.
For tickets go to: www.rsc.org.uk