As I liked it

Another quiet weekend in London. Most of it spent in and around the flat doing life admin, errands, etc. The highlight was Friday night, when I walked down to the Barbican and saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It — which it turns out I had never seen before. It’s one of those plays that is such a part of the general culture (“All the world’s a stage…”) that you think you’ve seen it, only the story that unfolds is actually unfamiliar and you feel a frisson of delight at discovering something new.

The play is strange enough (as many of the Bard’s comedies are) but it seemed timely: the “real” world of the play is a place of cutthroat struggle with a habit of exiling its unwanted to the wild woods; only those woods have a mystical effect of changing perspective, masking identities, and transforming everyone who enters. This is a forest I want to live in.

One of my favourite things about the RSC, aside from its ability to put on a very good play, is their great inclusiveness in casting. A commitment to gender parity in casting means they often cast women in traditionally male roles. Sometimes the roles are played straight, meaning the character is still male; sometimes the character becomes a woman. The casting is race neutral so there are people of all colors and sizes on the stage. And they’re the only company I know of who routinely cast deaf actors in parts that don’t call for it. So here, for example, one of the comic characters was a deaf woman, and she spoke as well as anyone else through sign language interpretation. In this way I feel the RSC, separate from the substance of any play, performs what it might be like if society were more egalitarian and inclusive. I want to live in that forest, too.

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