The RJ Williamson Company
(Open Air Production)
Venue: Kirkstall Abbey Cloisters, Leeds
19th August 2003
3/ 5
Reviewed by:
Alex Waddington

It would be easy to fall into the trap of praising this production simply because it’s Shakespeare and also because it’s performed outdoors, which always seems to send theatre buffs and critics into an excited frenzy.

But even though As You Like It isn’t - in your reviewer’s humble opinion - one of The Bard’s most distinguished works, the RJ Williamson Company succeeds in providing a reasonably entertaining and amusing evening of theatre.

Set amid the historic crumbling walls of Kirkstall Abbey Cloisters, As You Like It contains all the ingredients you would expect to find in a Shakespeare yarn.

The play commences with conflict, jealousy, escape and pursuit. From here onwards, everyone ends up in the mythical forest of Arden, where games are played and all manner of comic and prophetic characters are encountered. There’s much discord, reflection, sadness and even death, but thankfully it all ends in reconciliation and joyous scenes.

In staging this play, the company uses the full length and breadth of the venue, which has a sprawling dais and Roman columns for its centrepiece. The costumes however, are distinctly 19th century, and it’s hard to fathom the thinking behind this mix and match approach. To add to the confusion, the musical interludes from the harp, recorder and violin hail from Elizabethan times.

Unfortunately the initial scenes on the opening night of the 9th Leeds Shakespeare Festival were rather flat and lacked the zest and bounce you normally associate with the RJ Williamson Company. To compensate for this, some cast members appeared to be striving too hard to bring the play to life.

In particular, your reviewer found the performances of Martha Swann (Rosalind) and Jenni Bowden (Celia) rather irksome. Thanks to some thoughtful direction, these two cousins do provide some amusing moments – such as when they battle for the attentions of Orlando (Gary Tushaw) - but their tittering girlishness quickly starts to grate.

The performance your reviewer witnessed did shift up several gears after the interval, although it’s hard to finger any really outstanding performances. Playing the lead role of Orlando, Tushaw is confident and assured. His character’s wrestling match with Charles (Lincoln James) is spectacular and thrilling, drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the stands.

As Touchstone, Leeds-born co-director Robert J Williamson is a bundle of energy, life and expression, drawing maximum comedy value from his Foolish part. At times his performance does teeter on the brink of overkill, with the actor trying just a little to hard to thaw an audience battling with the evening chill. But he must be commended for his powerful delivery and meticulous attention to every utterance.

As the feisty Phebe, Annie Rowe is memorably entertaining, punching out her lines in a fiery Irish brogue. Her expression is superb but carefully controlled, squeezing every drop of drama out of her cameo role, but without ever straying into the realms of melodrama.

Richard Keynes also deserves plaudits for his portrayal of the dandyish and melancholy Jaques. His commanding and crisp delivery of the famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech is mesmerising, holding the eyes and ears of the audience like a vice.

If you’ve never given Shakespeare a whirl, this light and amusing outdoor interpretation of ‘As You Like It’ is a pretty good place to start. As with all R J Williamson Company productions, a concerted effort is made to siphon meaning and understanding from the language, which may be unfamiliar and puzzling to the irregular stalls dweller.

But on the opening night of As You Like It, there was some magic missing, and too many of the cast appeared to be simply uttering lines without real comprehension of their weight.

Copyright J A Waddington 2003. For syndication rights, please email.

Stuff to buy:

As You Like It
(The New Penguin Shakespeare)

As You Like It (The Shakespeare Folios)


Shakespeare at Stratford Series: As You Like It

As You Like It - HARDCOVER
Arden Shakespeare


As You Like It - PAPERBACK
Arden Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Collection: As You Like It

AsYou Like It (Narrated by Vanessa Redgrave)
Harper Collins Audiobook

Much Ado About Nothing"
and "As You Like It": A Casebook

As You Like It - The Greenwood Guide

As You Like It
Brodie's Notes

As You Like It
(Oxford School Shakespeare)


As You Like It
(The New Cambridge Shakespeare)


As You Like It
(Arden Shakespeare)


As You Like It
York Advanced Notes

As You Like It
Cliff Notes

As You Like It
(Cambridge Student Guide)

As You Like It
(Shakespeare for Everyone)

Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories: As You Like It

As You Like It
(BBC Radio Shakespeare)

As You Like It
Animated VHS

Symphony No.1 / Overture to As You Like It - CD

Shakespeare's Music - CD

Walton: Henry V / As You Like It - CD