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18 February 2000

By Michael Coveney

As You Like It (Gate, Dublin)

Verdict: Shakespeare in Irish stays liltingly

As You Like It (Sheffield Crucible)

Verdict: And warms up with a star performance in Yorkshire

SHAKESPEARE plays usually Hamlet or King Lear - are like No 9 buses. You
wait for ages, nothing happens, then three come along all at once.

In between, of course, we are regaled by idiotic Arts Council reports
telling us that theatre has got to get hip with lasers and video shows in
order to attract more youngsters.

Many problems in our theatre would be solved if the salaries of most arts
administrators and marketing wallahs were diverted into funding As You Like
It in every town and city in the land.

Just pipping the Royal Shakespeare Company to the As You Like It post this
year are revivals of one of the Bard's most attractive and slippery comedies
in Dublin and Sheffield.

At the Gate, Jonathan Miller, no less, lays down a lucid, modern dress
version, with dark wranglings at court played out before a gold-leaf
traverse curtain.

This separates to reveal a wilderness of fallen trees in the Forest of

Rosalind, disguised as a godlike boy, Ganymede, discovers her talent for
wit, counselling and falling fathoms deep in love.

TYPICALLY, a Miller production begins with a character shrugging his
shoulders. The playing bristles with perceptive body language and incisive
comic invention.

The sometimes tedious clown, Touchstone, for instance, comes alive, thanks
to the clenched and fervent delivery of Pat Kinevane's hustler in a Guys and
Dolls suit and shiny black hair.

The banished court loll around in tweeds like models in a Burberry's shop

Donna Dent's beguiling Rosalind treads carefully among them, snaring Orlando
(Mark O'Halloran) in her stick-on beard, reverse baseball cap and
grunge-style fatigues. It works well, sounds lovely and liltingly Irish and
contains such incidental pleasures as John Kavanagh's sourpuss Jacques
prefacing 'All the World's a Stage' with a Miller-esque, throat-clearing

But Michael Grandage's more ecstatic production in Sheffield - transferring
to the Lyric, Hammersmith, in a fortnight takes this symmetrical masterpiece
of savagery and kindness onto a higher plane of poetic beauty.

An audience of youngsters at Wednesday's matinee - not a laser in sight were
thoroughly entranced.

The chief reason was Victoria Hamilton's wonderful Rosalind, whose
fulfilment is unleashed in the discovery of her own spiritual potential.

Smallish (but necessarily taller than Samantha Spiro's neatly observed
Celia), she needs no disguise as Ganymede, apart from corseting her boyish
figure in a bandage. Sheepskins and boots form an androgynous dress code in
Christopher Oram's beautiful, simple design of bare boards, high windows and
a forest of tall, lean trees and slow snowfalls.

BEN Daniels's Orlando is transfixed, then transformed, in the personality
rush of Hamilton's Rosalind/ Ganymede, rather than merely bemused, as is his
Dublin counterpart.

Bob Mason's Touchstone is a music hall treat, his sex-mad, bottom-jigging
Audrey in Una Stubbs's remarkable performance a braying, head-butting
mistress of sheep.

Julian Philips's music adds lustre and uplift to scenes of foreboding and
joy. The singing of the lords in harmonies and rounds is delightful.

And Miss Hamilton's Rosalind - mercurial, wittily perceived and spoken, and
gloriously funny - will surely be counted among the best of our times.

Well, I never saw Vanessa Redgrave or Maggie Smith in the role, but no one I
can recall has come close to this version.

She starts in silhouette with Celia, as if wired for a journey that will
project her through the heart-thumping sight of Orlando at the wrestling
match, the decision to flee to Arden, the empowerment of a sexual freedom
rooted in the best of both worlds.

Her Rosalind is a missionary youth who also claims the feminine privilege of
disarming frankness: 'I am a woman, when I think must speak.' She embraces
her own holiday humour, drifting to waltz time when commanding Orlando to
woo her as his surrogate lover.

After the effort and ecstasy of this passage, she lies down with Celia for
the rousing chorus of the forest kill, unselfconsciously removing her shirt
to inadvertently elaborate on her physical charms.

Nicholas Le Prevost is a sombre Jacques, Bernard Horsfall a splendid old
dignified shepherd doubling as the marriage god. In all, I wager, an 'As
You' as you like it, and as I love it.

(Submitted by Tara)