Winter winds that blow so unkindly are the starting point of Sir Peter Hall's provocative production of "As You Like It." For this, the greenest of Shakespeare's comedies, Hall is intent on looking through a glass darkly to show that to truly appreciate spring, there first must be the experience of winter. The harsh themes of betrayal and exile in the early scenes resonate through the play as, in this Forest of Arden, the banished Duke and his not-so-merry men struggle for survival from hunger and cold. Hall's forest is very much a school of moral education, wherein hard knocks grow into heartwarming lessons in life and love. Hall's concept of winter into blossoming spring is a persuasive one.
This production, originally from the Theatre Royal Bath, has been touring the world for a couple of years and is now in New York briefly as part of BAM's 2005 spring season. Here the play's full text is used -- a truly rare occurrence. This being a touring show, the designer, John Gunter, has dressed most of the production in thrift-shop chic -- an oversupply of overcoats -- with Touchstone's motley and Celia's boots-and-flower-behind-the-ear being welcome, witty touches.
Hall's production is blessed with a superlative cast. Acting as the comedy's bookends are James Laurenson's two dukes, a fascist usurper and a kindly Oxford don, both keenly delineated. Michael Siberry's delightful Touchstone is an earthy music-hall turn, while Philip Voss' Jaques is so wonderfully vibrant that it's hard to believe him truly melancholy. Dan Stevens' Orlando is suitably lovesick, and Rebecca Callard makes a sweetly sharp Celia.
But this play is all about Rosalind, here played by Rebecca Hall, Sir Peter's tall daughter. She has a youthful freshness that immediately touches, but in this full version Rosalind is a mammoth part. With this deluge of words, seasoned variety is yet to come in her lovely tomboy performance.