It may be that when you achieve the status
of British director Sir Peter Hall (founder of the Royal Shakespeare
Company and a multiple Tony Award winner), you can pretty much
do what you want. But while casting his own daughter in the plum
role of Rosalind in his production of Shakespeare’s "As
You Like It" may boost her career, it did nothing for the
Hall, 74, says he hasn’t tackled "As You Like It" since 1961, when Vanessa Redgrave played the role in a version he produced. The reason was that he didn’t believe anyone else could match her performance - until his daughter Rebecca came along.
Rebecca Hall, 22, makes her New York debut in Theatre Royal Bath’s "As You Like It" (at BAM’s Harvey Theater until Jan. 29) with not much more theatrical experience than what she’s learned at her father’s knee - although admittedly, that includes working with him on a TV series at the age of 8 and performing in his West End revival of "Mrs. Warren’s Profession" as well as with her father’s repertory company, Theatre Royal Bath, last summer. Oh, and yes, she’s appeared in college productions at Cambridge.
All aspiring actors should be so lucky.
None of this is to say she is without talent. Throughout most of the play, Rosalind pretends to be a young man, and Hall gives the role a tomboyish grace. But she also has a limited range that lacks breadth and depth, and a voice so shrill that it becomes grating by the end of the play.
"As You Like It," one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, juxtaposes philosophy, cynicism and pure love - all of which fuel romances that play out in the Forest of Arden.
Rosalind is the daughter of a French duke (James Laurenson) who has been exiled by his brother Frederick (again James Laurenson). She falls in love with Orlando (Dan Stevens), whose deceased father, Sir Rowland de Boys, was a friend of the exiled duke. Orlando’s elder brother, the evil Oliver (Freddie Stevenson), plots to kill his younger brother, forcing him into exile in the forest. And after incurring her uncle’s wrath, Rosalind dresses up as a boy, Ganymede, and escapes into the forest along with her cousin, Celia (Rebecca Callard) and Touchstone (Michael Siberry), the court jester.
In the forest, Touchstone woos a bawdy and ignorant goat herd named Audrey (Janet Greaves); a shepherd named Silvius (David Birkin) courts Phoebe (Charlotte Parry), a shepherdess who unfortunately is in love with Ganymede; and Oliver, who reforms after his brother saves him from the claws of a lion, falls for Celia.
Orlando meets Ganymede, who teaches him about the true nature of love. And Jaques, one of the banished duke’s attendants, pontificates on the meaning of life. Needless to say, all the lovers are united by the end of the play and (presumably) live happily ever after.
If Hall is not spectacular in her role, the other females in lead roles - Greaves, Parry and Callard - more than pull their weight. Each has an earthiness and sure-footedness that Hall lacks. And Stevens and Stevenson are believable and funny as the two feuding brothers.
Most disappointing was "All the world’s a stage," the famous soliloquy recited by Jaques (Philip Voss), which left this reviewer cold. And the jester would have been a lot funnier if Siberry hadn’t garbled the words so that they were almost incomprehensible.
What truly stood out in this production, however, was John Gunter’s brilliantly evocative set that used light, shadow and illusion to create a forest that was almost mystical in its beauty.
But for the most part, this "As You Like It" was just another over-hyped British import. One will never know what toll playing alongside the director’s daughter may have taken on the other actors. The toll Hall’s indulgence took on the play is obvious.
If you’re a dyed in the wool Anglophile, perhaps you’ll enjoy this production of "As You Like It." But why not wait for Vanessa Redgrave herself, who stars in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s "Hecuba" at the BAM opera house in June?
Theatre Royal Bath’s production of "As You Like It" plays Jan. 22 and Jan. 25-29 at 7:30 pm; Jan. 22 and Jan. 29 at 2 pm; and Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 at 3 pm at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene). Tickets are $25, $45, $65 and $75. For more information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.