As You Like It overturns the traditional rules of romance. Gender roles, nature and politics get thoroughly muddled in a play that reflects on how bewildering yet utterly pleasurable life can be.
EXILE IN THE FOREST OF ARDEN
Duke Senior has been forced into exile from the court by Duke Frederick who has seized power. He takes refuge in the Forest of Arden with a band of faithful lords. Rosalind, his daughter, is kept uneasily at court as a companion to her cousin Celia, Duke Frederick's daughter.
A WRESTLING MATCH
Orlando de Boys, the youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, has been kept in poverty by his brother Oliver since his father's death. Orlando decides to take part in a wrestling match to win back his fortune at Frederick's court. There, he spots Rosalind and they fall in love.
Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind, believing her to be too popular and a threat to his power. Celia refuses to be parted from her cousin and together, they run away from court to find Duke Senior in the Forest. For safety, they disguise themselves - Rosalind as the boy Ganymede and Celia as his sister Aliena - and persuade the fool Touchstone to go with them.
On hearing of a plot by his brother to kill him, Orlando also flees to the Forest and joins the exiled Duke. Rosalind catches Orlando hanging love poetry to her on trees and, disguised as Ganymede, she challenges the strength of his love by getting him to woo Ganymede as if he were Rosalind.
LOVE BLOSSOMS IN THE FOREST
Elsewhere in the forest, the shepherd Silvius suffers unrequited love for Phoebe, who has fallen for Ganymede, while Touchstone pursues the goat-herd Audrey.
After Orlando saves his brother’s life, Oliver is filled with guilt and promptly falls in love with Aliena. Frustrated by his love for Rosalind, Orlando stops wooing Ganymede, so she promises to conjure up the real Rosalind and that all the lovers will be wed. On the day of the wedding, Rosalind appears in her female clothes. Duke Senior gives her away to Orlando, while Phoebe accepts Silvius. Happy news arrives that Duke Frederick, has left court to be a hermit.
Shakespeare knew the magic that theatre could create in the minds of his audience. He celebrated this in As You Like It with several references to the making of theatre, particularly in Jaques’ famous ‘All the World’s a Stage’ speech in Act 2, Scene 7.
To emphasise this, director Omar Elerian, has set our 2023 production of As You Like It in a simple rehearsal room: “The actors will gather to conjure a long gone show of which nothing is left but their fading memory of it, celebrating the magic of theatre and its unique power to make our imagination soar in an ode to young love, old age, and theatre itself.”
This concept led to many creative decisions:
- The cast arrives onstage at the start as actors arriving for a rehearsal
- Some of the cast comment to the audience that the play hasn’t started yet
- The actors are onstage throughout, watching each other perform
- Orlando places a robe on a chair and speaks to it as if it were another character
- Younger cast members have scripts in their hands to show they are learning their parts
- Cast members stand and become trees, creating a forest for the others to walk through