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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
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The first scene, in which Orlando, played with fury and despair by Dan Stevens, cues the play. Although he never has such a powerful scene again, Stevens' passion hangs in the air. It cloaks the figure of Rosalind, the banished Duke's daughter (Rebecca Hall) whose anger, independence and passion for Orlando negate the forest's chill.
When Shakespeare's characters arrive in Sir Peter Hall's Forest of Arden, they're confronted with reality. The Duke's followers find themselves in a bleak cold landscape where they have to cluster around a fire, scrounge for food and listen to a sole guitar-playing musician for solace and inspiration.
Although Sir Peter has said that the American Depression Era of 1930 had no influence on his production, it's hard not to be reminded of it, partly because of Rosalind's costume (particularly her hat) and partly because of the bleakness of the forest where we first find the actors. This is no pretty bucolic grove. It's cold and poor and the actors draw us into the reality of that world. Jacques does it through the bitterness that laces his "All the world's a stage" speech. The motley fool Touchstone does it with his cynical riddles. Rosalind does it through her insecurity in the face of her painfully desired love.
Rosalind disguises herself as a boy, initially for safety on the road away from court, and later to hide her true identity from Orlando and so draw him out as suitor and get to know him. That, too, echoes today's internet world where people meet anonymously on line and relate in ways they would never do face to face.
Though it's three and a half hours long (Sir Peter doesn't like cuts), the play moves fast. There's the feeling that this is partly because of the cold and partly because of the passion.
The glory of Rebecca Hall's passion is that she recognizes it and tries to make it work for her. "How many fathom deep I am in love!" she confesses to her cousin Celia. Miss Hall projects the tremulous fear at the heart of the first experience of love. When she discovers Orlando in the forest and decides, "I will speak to him like a saucy lackey and under that habit play the knave with him," she does it with a sense of mischief that appalls Celia. Even as the mischief wears thin and her desire and confusion emerge, she still skulks behind her disguise, reluctant to go back to the role she has played all her life. The actress has a natural immediacy and range that bring her character to vibrant life. It's a rare quality.
Hall is well matched by Dan Stevens whose initial rage mellows endearingly into that of a love-struck lad who writes terrible poems. Who but a poet as sure of himself as Shakespeare would have the guts to stick really bad poems in the middle of his plays?
Orlando is written as a perfectly normal kid who is late for dates and stubbornly obsessed in his passion for a girl he's seen once. Stevens captures all those qualities.
David Birkin as the young shepherd Silvius brings a similar painful passion to his obsession for Phoebe and nothing in Charlotte Parry's broad depiction of Phoebe can convince us that she's worth it. The rest of the excellent cast calls for special praise for David Barnaby as Adam, the old servant; Rebecca Callard as Celia; Michael Siberry as Touchstone, the jester; James Laurenson as the two Dukes; Philip Voss as a Plato-esque Jacques and Janet Greaves as Audrey, the goatherd.
Mick Sands has composed haunting music for Shakespeare's songs and John Gunter's simple forest set, illuminated by Peter Mumford's subtle lighting and projections, unostentatiously evokes snowy winter followed by promising spring.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. >Click image to buy.
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