As You Like It and the screening phenomenon

Just saw the National Theatre’s As You Like It in the local cinema in Falmouth. What an extraordinary boon to us hicks who live out in the sticks. Of course, doing what I do, I try to see as much good live theatre as I can, but it’s often a long way. Even the wonderful theatres in Plymouth are a two hour journey. So this screening phenomenon is wonderful.

Of course, this isn’t the first one I’ve seen. There have been a variety of good things – the one that sticks out most in my mind being the excellent A View from the Bridge, with Nicola Walker and  Mark Long. The first production I have seen which makes sense of all the allusions to Greek theatre and presents the play in all its tragic inevitability, as effectively a Greek tragedy, complete with flawed tragic hero.

So – As You Like It. An exuberant production with a lot of very funny touches [such as the sheep] and an energetically scampering cast chasing each other around the set in pursuit of love.

The set! I can see what they were trying to do. They made a brightly coloured office-type setting for the opening which was ugly and which I found off-putting. It did not suggest a Duke’s court in any way but rather a corporate enterprise. Then the desks, tables and chairs rose up and became the Forest of Arden. That worked very well [though I’ve seen the idea before]. Not that that matters … there’s nothing new…etc.etc. It did suggest a forest, with clever pools of mysterious lighting, and the green notes attached to the trees which were partly Orlando’s love letters to Rosalind and partly leaves, The recurring idea of falling leaves/notes was nice, almost confetti-like and certainly joyful, I did find myself asking, however – was the office setting for the first scene simply there to justify the furniture used again for the forest? Hmm. A dubious reason. Though I did try to justify it in my mind: the unnaturalness of the Duke’s court against the natural Forest where lives the banished Duke. False against true, so that somehow everyone, even the bad Duke, now transfigured into hermit-guise, is dissolved in the natural setting of Arden. Everyone, even the brash office furniture is made anew and softened at the edges by a softer light?? Well, maybe that’s what they meant. But that opening was a shock and took a bit of getting used to. At one time I had a sinking feeling that the office would become the Forest less pleasantly, since all the desks had miniature tree plants on them – the wildness of Arden – which threatens the Duke’s reign, always lapping at the edges of his kingdom, shrunk and contained perhaps, imprisoned – and I feared that a more prosaic forest of these miniature trees held by the busy chorus of extras, would be the way Arden was done. Thank goodness no! The Forest did work, managed to retain threat and mystery as well as encouraging, as the spring fever of love enters it, a softening, a place where sheep and goats might frolic and love blossom unharmed by wolves. This softening of the forest under the magic of love was nicely done and I ended up carried along by the fun and the charm. And as always, food for thought. Vive live screening!