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Mr Monkey sees As You Like It at the Royal Exchange Theatre, 4th July

Mr Monkey looking at the poster for As You Like It Cush Jumbo (Rosalind) and Ben Batt (Orlando) (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey admiring the green walls of the ground floor of the Theatre Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of the final production in the current season at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It.

After checking the posters to see that the right play was on, Mr Monkey scurried up into the Mezzanine Gallery to see Sense of Place, then picked up his humans' tickets.

On his way to his seat Mr Monkey realised that the walls of the ground floor of the Theatre had been coloured to give the general impression of being in the Forest of Arden. Either that, or Mr Monkey had never noticed that the walls had always been green.

As You Like It is a romantic comedy. Good Duke Senior has been overthrown by his younger brother, Duke Frederick, and has gone to live in the Forest of Arden. In the early stages of the first act various other characters flee from or are banished from the court; all eventually find their way to the same Forest. These include Rosalind (who has diguised herself as a man), Celia (her cousin), Touchstone (the fool), and Orlando, whose brother is trying to have him murdered. To complicate matters, Rosalind and Orlando are in love with each other, but neither has had time to tell the other. Various romantic entanglements and high jinks ensue, some of Shakespeare's most famous lines appear, and there is a happy (if somewhat unlikely) end.

Cush Jumbo as Rosalind disguised as a man (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) This production has a minimal set; the stage is bare except when props are brought on for individual scenes. However, there are three sets of speakers which descend towards the stage at different times - green speakers for the Forest, orange for second act love scenes, and blue speakers attached to branches to represent Hymen, the god of love and fertility. Each set of speakers has its own set of sounds and sound design and set design merge.

The costumes are modern and, like the speakers, colour-coded. The bad Duke and his court dress presidentially in black (with bunny ears on occassion), the good Duke and his exiled court wear forest green Barbour, with brighter colours being given to the protagonists in the love tangles.

The play was introduced by James Dey, officially the Troubadour, with an electric guitar. After a while the pastoral tune reminded Mr Monkey of a line from Status Quo track. As You Like It has an above-average number of songs, and these are incorporated perfectly into the production. The words of the final song do get somewhat lost in the exuberance of the celebrations, where the entire cast seem to have an instrument of some sort, but it is a great note to end the play on.

As there are so many characters in As You Like It several members of the cast have multiple roles. This was initially confusing until Mr Monkey had worked out the significance of the costume colours. Terence Wilton is particularly good playing the two Dukes, though Mr Monkey was a little disappointed Shakespeare hadn't given the bad Duke more lines.

Cush Jumbo is excellent as Rosalind. With the play being in modern costume she couldn't rely simply on a change of clothes to become Ganymede (her male alter-ego) - short hair, jeans and a baseball cap isn't uniquely man's apparel anymore - but delivers a very convincing portrayal of a swaggering young man, using posture, body language and street style delivery of Shakespeare's words.

As the least experienced members of the cast William Postlethwaite and Zora Bishop more than hold their own giving solid performances as Silvius and Phoebe.

Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed this production of As You Like It.

As You Like It runs until August 6th 2011.

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