As You Like It by William Shakespeare

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As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Dir. Sally Avens. Perf. Pippa Nixon, Luke Norris, Adrian Scarborough. BBC Radio 3, 1 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 31 Mar. 2015.

The real star of this revival was Johnny Flynn of the rock band Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, whose musical score established the sense of community that characterized the Forest of Arden, as compared to Duke Ferdinand's (Jonathan Coy's) court. Whenever someone burst into song ("Under the greenwood tree/ Who loves to lie with me,/ And turn his merry note/ Unto the sweet bird's throat"), we understood how the songs functioned as a means of bringing everyone together, irrespective of their social status. Even the arch-snob Jaques (William Houston) willingly participated in the festivities.

In Sally Avens's production Arden was a benevolent world; although the inhabitants fell in and out of love with unerring regularity, no one ever got hurt. People listened to and tolerated one another, realizing (perhaps) that if they did not do so, then their world might become as savage and uncaring as that presided over by Ferdinand. Jaques's "All the world's a stage" soliloquy was treated as a performance; what really mattered was that he could entertain the people gathered around him, rather than expressing any particular sentiments about human life. As he spoke, the assembled crowd murmured their approval, as they warmed to Jaques's rhetoric.

The theme of companionship was also evident in the relationships between Rosalind (Pippa Nixon) and Celia (Ellie Kendrick), and Orlando (Luke Norris) and Adam (David Acton). All of them experienced the trauma of exclusion in one way or another; cast out into the Forest of Arden, they had to rely on one another for support. The sequence where old Adam volunteered to give Orlando all his life-savings was particularly touching; even though Adam would have been left with nothing, he was prepared to give everything in support of his master. It was thus hardly surprising that all four characters should eventually become quite happy with life in the Forest, where such acts of kindness were second nature to everyone.

Rosalind was the driving force behind this revival on account of her sheer strength of character, as well as her benevolent nature. At certain moments we heard her name being whispered in the background ("Ros-a-lind!!") by some unidentified voices; this strategy not only emphasized her importance to the plot, but suggested that she had the power to educate people - especially Orlando, whose naivété (especially where women were concerned) was palpable. The experience in the Forest helped transform her from an innocent into a highly sophisticated personality, the kind of person who would brook no nonsense from her husband in the future. Thematically speaking, Rosalind's emotional journey helped to underline the significance of the Forest for everyone living there; the experience gave them the power to understand themselves and their relationship to others, and thereby emerge as better persons for the future.

Director Avens sustained a light touch throughout, not only through the musical score, but by encouraging the cast to emphasize the play's comic potential. The friendly rivalry between Jaques and Touchstone (Adrian Scarborough) was contrasted with the bucolic humor involving Touchstone and Phoebe (Bettrys Jones). The action proceeded at a cracking pace towards the conclusion, leaving us with a renewed faith in human nature. Definitely a worthwhile evening's entertainment.