“What shall I do with my doublet and hose!”

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Katy Stevens (RSC's Rosalind) with ESU visiting group

The RSC’s ‘As You Like It’ comes to the end of its run tomorrow night, and I’m going to miss it when it disappears from Stratford’s stage. I’ve seen the production many times with visiting groups, and I’ve enjoyed watching the actors’ performances develop over the course of the run.

 

A couple of weeks ago Katy Stevens, who has been a very memorable Rosalind this season, came in to chat with one of the courses I was running. As ever, it was fascinating to hear Katy talk about her experience of playing this role, and to learn about some of the challenges and rewards it has to offer. Rosalind, like so many of Shakespeare’s characters, enjoys a life outside of Shakespeare’s text. She exists in the mind’s eye, and some people come to the theatre with strong opinions about how she should look, sound, and behave. This is something I try to avoid at all costs, but it takes a lot of willpower (no pun intended!). I’ve already quoted Glen Byam Shaw’s rehearsal notebooks on a couple of other occasions in these blogs…..and I’m going to do so again! Like many theatre-goers Glen had a strong mental impression of Shakespeare’s characters, and the challenge for his performers was to live up to his vivid imaginings. Here is how Rosalind appeared in Glen’s mind’s eye. These are the notes he prepared for Peggy Ashcroft when she played the role in Stratford in 1957.

“She is restless and full of imagination and feeling. Sensitive to a degree and wildly excitable when the mood takes her. She hasn’t an enormous lot of common sense but is full of originality, and her wit and gaiety are brilliant. One could never be dull in her company. Whatever her mood it is excessive, and she can be very exhausting to be with at times. Her voice is beautiful and can express her changes of mood to the full. She speaks with crystal clarity and with no affectation. She is tall and handsome in an unusual way. Her figure though slight is exquisite and might be compared to a race horse. She is dark and the most expressive and lovely thing about her are her eyes which express her feelings in an ever more sensitive and deeper way than her voice. She is wonderfully graceful and at the same time virile in her movements. Her walk has rhythm and strength. She is very good-hearted but in no way soft or sloppy. She is a person who would shine in any walk of life and who has an irresistible effect on those she is with.”

I’ve yet to have my figure compared to a ‘race horse’, so I guess I’m not obvious casting for Rosalind! The beard probably doesn’t help either. Shame.

The RSC’s current production of ‘As You Like It’ will be playing at the Roundhouse in London from 13th January 2011.

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Author:Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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