Outside Waterstone’s in Newcastle, young women wearing clothes with flashes of pink, are queuing to see Katie Price signing copies of her new novel. The former glamour model, who is also known as Jordan, experiments with different identities, and she could be described as an independent woman making it on her own in the savage and brutal world of a celebrity-focused culture. About 100 yards away from where Katie Price is about to undertake her book signing for her fans, another Katie prepares to take the stage as another independent woman who also experiments and explores different identities. As the fans queue to meet Jordan, Kay Stephens is about to play Rosalind in the RSC’s inventive and interesting interpretation of As You Like It.
I have written about the RSC’s As You Like It before and the other two productions I saw at The Globe and The Curve, Leicester earlier this year, and it felt that seeing the RSC again in Newcastle is like visiting an old friend. One of the exciting things about seeing an RSC production in Newcastle, is to see a production in a different space from The Courtyard Theatre. I felt that Michael Boyd’s As You Like It has transferred beautifully to the Newcastle Theatre Royal’s proscenium arch space. Some of the key ideas behind the Courtyard space are retained such as keeping the house lights on through most of the production. As Newcastle’s Theatre Royal isn’t a very large theatre, seats aren’t too far from the stage even at the back of the stalls which is in keeping with having the audience close to the performance. The overall vision and aesthetic of the production is retained in the new space. It’s still a bleak winter world in the Forest of Arden. In being able to move a production out of the Courtyard does make me think a little of the Courtyard experiment and how experimental it is if the productions transfer so well.
There are some problems to be overcome in the new space. How do you get Audrey and Touchstone on stage for the wedding, especially in that skirt for example? In Newcastle, the couple had to make their entrance for their wedding by squeezing by people very close to the stage on Row B and Audrey has to find a free seat arm to stand on. There are other entrances and exits that have to be changed and characters now enter from the aisles in the auditorium instead of the vomitoria.
The formal court scene early in the play worked really well on this stage as proscenium space promotes the sense of order and formality in the scene. Nevertheless that formality didn’t undermine other less formal moments. The surprises in this production continue to work well in Newcastle. Forbes Masson’s wonderful cynical Jaques enters centre stage as he does in Stratford paying his guitar. I’m sure that he managed to prolong the ‘more’ with the Newcastle audience much longer than I saw him do in Stratford. His seven ages of man speech is delivered in a very original way. Corin’s skinning of the rabbit after the interval has to be carried out with the audience all in front of him. An addition in Newcastle is that Touchstone adds his ‘Meat is Murder’ sign alongside Orlando’s love poetry.
Some members of the audience gasped when they saw the dress that Rosalind wears for her wedding. It didn’t look like anything Katie Price would wear, but it was elegant and at the same time simple. The embroidered flowers picked up the designs in the other character’s clothes. The dress signified Rosalind’s transformation, and she does not return to the formal clothes she wore at the start of the play. Nevertheless, Rosalind has made her mark and got her way and she speaks the epilogue as well. In many ways both Katie Price and Katy Stephens’ Rosalind are role models for young women, but they are women who also play a part so that they can succeed.