Gender-Fluid As You Like It Goes A Tad Panto At The Barbican

As You Like It, The Barbican ★★★☆☆

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Gender-Fluid As You Like It Goes A Tad Panto At The Barbican As You Like It, The Barbican 3
Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

As You Like It is a simple play at heart. A high born family banished from the refinements of court come to dwell in the bawdy Forest of Arden, a fate not to be dwelt on too much when love is in the air. Unfortunately, though some sublime music touches its heart, this slightly panto and gender-fluid version of Shakespeare's most philosophic of comedies has too many bum notes to ignore.

The main gripe arises from the performances. It's hard to believe at such a high level but the leads were just not projecting enough. David Ajao's Orlando fades badly in the second half and even Rosalind (Lucy Phelps) feels too often dwarfed by the admittedly expansive Barbican stage. Martext's lovely 'All the world's a stage' speech just falls flat, devoid of the melancholy s/he is supposed to embody.

Then there is some of the casting. Phebe's rejection of Ganymede because she turns out to be a woman makes little sense when she accepts Silvia (not Silvius) instead. There were other confusions but the point is that gender fluidity and sexual ambiguity is already in the text. Overall with an emphasis on the 'aside,' nodding and winking galore, some of the play's poetry and lyricism is lost.

Beyond that there are performances and moments to savour. Looking like a glam rock god, the Fool (Sandy Grierson) shines and Sophie Khan Levy is a delight in the difficult role of 'heroine's best friend'. With this and Rosalind's increasing dominance, the production achieves a brightness and openness that finally gained the audience's good will.

As You Like It, Barbican, Silk St, EC2Y 8DS, £10-£59.50. Until 18 January 2020

Last Updated 05 November 2019