As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

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The Independent Culture

There's a real sense of a strong company creating an imaginatively heightened and coherent world. Simple, satisfying touches - the cast gather, at the start, for a snow-sprinkled rendition of "Under the Greenwood Tree" and, at the opening of the second half, playfully doff their furs and gad about - emphasise the dramatic progression from emotional wintriness to the summery liberation of the main Arden episodes.

Lia Williams's Rosalind struck me as a mite mannered before her translation to the forest. And in the Epilogue, too, the actress's working of the audience feels too calculated: the greatest Rosalinds bring a heart-stopping directness to this passage. But in her disguise as "Ganymede" and in the mock-wooing routines with Barnaby Kay's delightful, open-hearted Orlando, Williams is splendid. A skinny, flaxen-haired stripling, she's so overcome with the romping giddiness of love and with the licence granted by her male mufti that she's always in danger of going too far. She allows, for example, a finger to rove up Orlando's chest and it's no surprise that the pair find themselves in a prolonged kiss, leaving Kay to shore up his heterosexual credentials afterwards in a very funny, dazed macho strut. In this interpretation, Rosalind is rumbled when she faints into the arms of Orlando's brother, Oliver, who becomes aware of her breasts. It's clear that he passes this information on to the hero, who hence emerges here as a man of great empathy and tolerance. His tacit acceptance of the trick imparts an added charge to the line: "I can live no longer by thinking" and Williams's Rosalind duly accords it the respect of a lengthy pensive silence.

Amanda Harris is delectably comic as Celia, the bespectacled brunette who longs to cast off her glasses and toss out her tresses for a man of her own. I wish I had the space to compliment the entire cast, which includes Paul Chahidi's rapid, wily Touchstone and Joseph Mydell, whose Jaques is a fruity gourmand of melancholy.

In rep to 29 October (0870 609 1110)

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