As You Like It, Wyndhams, London

Ardour in Arden - at a rate of knots
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The Independent Culture

This surely ought to live up to its name. David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, is in exile while his theatre is being rebuilt, but his West End production of Shakespeare's pastoral comedy boasts one of the most magnetic actresses of her generation: Helen McCrory plays the cross-dressing heroine, Rosalind, who flees her vicious uncle's court for the Forest of Arden. The young movie star Sienna Miller is her devoted cousin Celia, and the comedians Sean Hughes and Reece Shearsmith (from The League of Gentlemen) are vying to be the top jester, as Touchstone and Jaques. Woefully though, unlike the characters who find romance in this idyll, I swiftly fell out of love with Lan's troupe.

This surely ought to live up to its name. David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, is in exile while his theatre is being rebuilt, but his West End production of Shakespeare's pastoral comedy boasts one of the most magnetic actresses of her generation: Helen McCrory plays the cross-dressing heroine, Rosalind, who flees her vicious uncle's court for the Forest of Arden. The young movie star Sienna Miller is her devoted cousin Celia, and the comedians Sean Hughes and Reece Shearsmith (from The League of Gentlemen) are vying to be the top jester, as Touchstone and Jaques. Woefully though, unlike the characters who find romance in this idyll, I swiftly fell out of love with Lan's troupe.

Plenty of interesting ideas are floated. The setting is 1940's France. Duke Senior's corps in hiding are, implicitly, a Second- World-War resistance movement, opposed to the usurping dictatorial Frederick (Nigel Richards in fascistic leather gloves). Frederick is an absolutist aristo too, throwing Rosalind out of his Versailles-style gardens after which her cry "To liberty!" has a revolutionary ring. You can't, however, push the political analogies too far. Arden is, in fact, some kind of liberal arts college. The set designer Richard Hudson projects images of real trees, while the wood forming the set is crafted into a painter's easel, a double bass, cello and piano. For McCrory's Rosalind, this place is principally a stage school where she pretends to be a man (in a double-breasted suit and trilby) till she feels sure of Dominic West's ardent, strapping Orlando. Hudson also exposes the theatre's brick walls, underlining that "All the world's a stage".

Meantime, the followers of Clive Rowe's Duke Senior are, actually, a band of the mellow jazz-playing variety, so this becomes As You Like It: The Musical. Many longer speeches are neatly turned into extra songs by composer Tim Sutton. Suggesting an alternative faith, Rowe is sometimes a choirmaster too, hymning in praise of Nature.

Nonetheless, most of the humour falls desperately flat. Hughes is lame. Shearsmith's Jaques is rightly bitter but also unfunny. Miller is affable but slightly overacts. The real star of the show is Andrew Woodall as Orlando's brother, Oliver: seething and shaky with hatred until he collapses, wakes in the wood and falls for Celia with great tenderness.

Lan strongly foregrounds the violence and anger in this play, and McCrory is startlingly distressed about being overwhelmed by love. But even she nervously rushes her bits of comic business. When she steps forward as the Epilogue to beg our applause it is, uncomfortably, no laughing matter.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

Booking to 3 September, 0870 060 6633

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