A young aristocrat and the daughter of a banished duke fall in love at a wrestling contest. Both are forced from court by family intrigue, and take refuge in the same enchanted forest. She recognises him, but not vice versa, since to avert assault she has disguised herself as a boy. Confusions ensue.
Stephen Unwin’s production of As You Like It (at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, until 26 March) is hoppled from the start by an antipathetic Orlando. A few minutes into the play he charges across the stage and attacks his eldest brother violently from behind. We can only sympathise as Oliver (William Tapley) plots to have him killed by Duke Frederick’s prize wrestler. When the match comes around, Orlando (David Sturzaker) throws dust in his opponent’s eyes, and is visibly put out at not being allowed to break his neck. That Rosalind should fall for this thug at first sight seems unlikely, bordering on perverted.
In the Forest of Arden we meet the eclectic exiled court of Duke Senior. Touchstone the fool (Michael Feast) finds love and wards off a rival with some impressive verbal gymnastics. Adrian Lukis (Jaques) delivers his aphorisms with the saccharine-soft, self-delighted didacticism of Lord Mandelson baiting an interviewer. And Georgina Rich’s Rosalind does an engaging, loose-jointed impression of a ‘saucy lackey’, bantering with the unsuspecting Orlando.
But, with the basic plot made so implausible, these strong performances stay with you only as a disjointed parade of eccentrics.