Preview: As You Like It, Theatre Royal
THEY say there is more than one way to skin a rabbit, but actor Geoffrey Freshwater, playing a shepherd in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s As You Like It, deftly demonstrated one of them as the interval audience filed back to its seats in Stratford at the weekend.
While not out of place in an imagined Forest of Arden, where much of As You Like It is set, the scene has caused a little consternation among theatre marketing people in the North East.
Audiences can be fickle and on-stage butchery is hardly a common cause of auditorium unrest – not like nudity or strong language – even if the context justifies it.
"Michael [Boyd, director] just wanted to give a taste of the reality of rural life," Katy Stephens, who plays Rosalind in the play, explained before going on stage.
"Geoffrey was trained by a butcher in Stratford, added Jonjo O’Neill, cast as Orlando, who expresses his love for Rosalind with lines of poetry hung in all the trees.
Geoffrey, Katy, Jonjo and the controversial (as I suppose we must call it) rabbit-skinning scene are all heading our way. As You Like It, in Michael Boyd’s exuberant, thoroughly enjoyable production, will open the 2009 RSC season at Newcastle Theatre Royal on October 20.
Inevitably, there will be those (vegetarians, rabbit lovers) who might give it a miss and there will be those who wonder why Michael Boyd didn’t make life easier for those selling tickets by having the shepherd shelling some peas. It got a round of applause in Stratford on Saturday, although a mother was seen taking her daughter out, returning to their seats when it was all over.
But the actors were supportive of the scene and it is cleverly done, Freshwater’s newfound skill displayed in gruff, matter-of-fact style while the fastidious body language of the court fool, Touchstone, a townie new to the forest, makes light of it.
Touchstone, incidentally, is played by Richard Katz, whose comic contributions to the current RSC season take Shakespearean fooling to new heights.