Maria Aberg has done it again. The way she could make an incredibly tasteful use of balloons and confetti in King John last year, she has now succeeded in creating an enchanted forest of Arden with boots, blankets and beams. The gently spinning trees on the backdrop of the stage were arguably one of the most creative props ever used on the RST stage.
The production had a thematic note which, though difficult to define, was consistent. The tweedy and chequered shirts and trousers and slim and simple knee-length dresses created an ambience of classic Britishness. At the same time, inadvertent as it were, the costumes brought to mind the current Russian TV series called My 80s - an accurate portrayal of the Soviet youth culture of the 1980s in all its colourful liveliness.
A slight inconsistency could be noted regarding the costumes, music and dance in the first scene at the court. Whilst Rosalind's gown was simple and graceful, Celia was wearing a long evening dress that did not entirely fit with the theme that would shape as the performance unfolded. The three other women, apparently gentlewomen of the court and again in long evening dresses, were engaged in weird dance movements as the scene opened. However, Laura Marling's beautiful music went on to accentuate the beauty, depth and innocuousness of the love theme throughout the rest of this tastefully patterned performance.
Almost everyone was good. Natalie Klamar was back with the RSC to play the pesky Phoebe and John Stahl to play a veritable wicked Duke Frederick. Cliff Burnett was a spot on Robin-Hoodian banished Duke. Yet Nicholas Tennant's Touchstone was overclowning his clown way too much at times. Tennant's Touchstone was basically marginalised into a real fool. And given his vim and vigour, Oliver Ryan's Jaques was not exactly being duly melancholic! Joanna Horton made a sweet Celia. With wit and humour, Horton was brilliant in adding substance, character and charm to the outwardly characterless part of the kind little princess. Alex Waldmann as Orlando was devilishly sweet, as always. Waldmann has charisma in abundance to keep his auditor's eyes fixed on him throughout!
The highlight of the cast was, no doubt, Pippa Nixon. With the extraordinary energy that she displays on the stage, Nixon was a double blast as a delicate, witty Rosalind and a truly boyish Ganymede. Nixon would be a perfect choice for other cross-dressing Shakespeare characters, like Innogen, Viola, Julia.
In a single performance, Pippa Nixon managed to carve two separate characters and accentuate each with incredibly credible physical, verbal and artistic vitality. In view of celebrated portrayals of Rosalind, a step-by-step parallel between Nixon's Rosalind and that of Helen Mirren in the famous BBC production would presumably gain more credits for Nixon. With her delicate lithe physique and short hair, Nixon fully succeeded in transforming into a Ganymede.
The actress simply breathes Shakespearean passion. Pippa Nixon's presence on the RSC stage for the past few years has been outstanding. From a ruined virgin in Greg Doran's impeccable production of Cardenio to a super skilled whore in The City Madam in 2011, Nixon went on to amaze her audiences with her Lady Anne in Richard III and most triumphantly her female Bastard in King John in 2012.
The Stratford-based writer Steve Newman has compared Pippa Nixon to Peggy Ashcroft both in bearing and appearance. Indeed, with the phenomenal talent Nixon has so far demonstrated, she shall be legended in no time. I would not be surprised to see Pippa Nixon play Falstaff one day and manage it!
... The last show of As You Like It came to a close on the Saturday of 26 September with standing ovation, the audiences once more having tasted the amazing aspectuality of Shakespearean drama. And walking out of the RST into the shiny stars and sleeping swans of Avon, one could not help ruminating on the rise of a new Peggy Ashcroft on the RSC stage...