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Review: As You Like It, at Barbican

Gimmicky audience participation in what should be one of Shakespeare’s most thought-provoking and philosophical plays

22 November, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Graeme Brookes in As You Like It. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

WHICH expressions do actors mostly see etched upon the faces of a Shakespeare comedy audience?

This Royal Shakespeare Company troupe will have mostly perceived that most primal of human emotion: fear of audience participation.

The production’s programme promotes the concept of “visible audiences” and the importance of breaking down the “fourth wall” between actor and audience. It warns how the original Shakespeare experience would have been a “two- or three-hour collaboration between player and play-goer”.

We knew we were in trouble when the Fool Touchstone (Sandy Grierson) threw his half-eaten pork pie 10 rows deep into the stalls.

Before the interval, three poor souls were forced up on stage and asked to stand in a row holding up bits of paper.

The actors make eye contact throughout and pick out people to direct their speeches to.

The Barbican was packed with unsuspecting specimens for RSC artistic director Gregory Doran’s experiment, lured by what can be one of Shakespeare’s most thought-provoking and philosophical plays.

What they got was mainly gimmicky, toe-curling pap – the kind of tourist Shakespeare you get at The Globe.

The Forest of Arden is notoriously an inhospitable place, but this set was emotionally barren.

The cynic Jacques’ (Sophie Stanton) Seven Ages of Man speech was devastatingly underwhelming. The only saving grace was Lucy Phelps (Rosalind) whose sparkle was reciprocated by the “play-goers”.

All the world’s a stage, and long live the fourth wall.

Until January 18
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