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What Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ looks like in the 21st century

Photo used with permission from
Director Kimberley Sykes explores themes of love, freedom, and joy in a modern take of the Shakespeare play “As You Like It” at the Barbican.

Working alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company, Director Kimberley Sykes explores themes of love, freedom, and joy in the Forest of Arden in juxtaposition to the restraining corruption of city life in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at the Barbican. The ensemble, which features gender and racial diversity, fills the beautiful auditorium with consistent energy and moments of eloquent silence. 

Right off the bat, you notice the unique characteristics that distinguish each character. 

Lucy Phelps’ portrayal of the protagonist Rosalind is brought to life with adour and enthusiasm in her voice and every movement, keeping the audience on their toes. 

Alongside Rosalind is her best friend and cousin Celia (played by the sweet yet humorous Sophie Khan Levy), who makes their friendship one that deserves to be envied. Sandy Grierson’s bizarrely hilarious Touchstone never fails to make one laugh out loud with his sequin vest, few stranded hairs hanging off of his bald head, and satirical humor. 

A special mention goes to Amelia Donkor, who portrays a gender-switched Silvius and is referred to as Silvia. Pleading for the love of Phoebe, who falls in love with the disguised Rosalind acting as Ganymede, Silvia and Phoebe represent homosexuality and bisexuality, both of which makes the play even more inclusive and diverse in the Forest of Arden, beyond race and gender.

Aside from the classic Shakespearean comedy, expect tear-jerking scenes in which the audience explores the struggles of love and injustice along with musical accompaniment. 

A notable originality was the revealing of the backstage workings as if it was a play within a play. Despite causing some confusion in the audience, it was a clever way to show the same actors playing different characters from then on as they change costumes on stage. 

Similar to a few of the Globe performances— such as “Henry IV: Part I”— actor interaction with the audience is a huge part of the play. Marked by the turning on of house lights, the audience participation, although awkward at times, becomes a way to introduce a turning point in the plot that may be difficult for some to understand through the complex language of Shakespeare. 

Overall, it was an enjoyable show in a comfortable space. Sykes’ adaptation discontinues the stereotypes of Shakespeare’s plays being boring and too difficult to follow. Thought-provoking and entertaining, the show is a great way to escape from the corruption of Duke Frederick’s court as well as from the world outside the Barbican theatre as you delve into a world of the late 1500s. 

If you feel adventurous, buy a front-row ticket where you get to be in the “splash zone.” The Shakespeare rom-com, “As You Like It,” is playing at the Barbican Theatre from Oct. 26, 2019, to Jan. 18, 2020.

You can buy general tickets here.

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