Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing romantic comedy is given a darker twist by director Jessica Ruano in this new adaptation. The partly excavated Rose Theatre’s cavernous depths, sitting beneath a tower block, creates a ghostly atmosphere, while the cast – sporting sharply tailored jackets – look like they’ve stepped out of a Desigual streetwear shoot rather than the late 1500s.
However, this is a play that defies being rebranded, and at its heart it remains and works best as a salacious, gender-bending pantomime-like romp around the Forest of Arden. Suzanne Marie and Matthew Howell, as the mixed-up would-be lovers Rosalind and Orlando, have great chemistry. Following her stand-out performance in the theatre’s production of St Joan last year, Marie is fast carving a niche for herself playing women taking on the role of men – probably because she does it so well.
The rest of the cast give solid support, with some haunting singing from Bonny Davis as Amiens, but unfortunately have less time to develop their characters since the text has been cut from around three hours to just over one. The ending comes too abruptly and isn’t entirely satisfying. To truncate the piece this dramatically feels too severe. Just as things are starting to get good, it’s time for the curtain call.
The Rose Theatre, Bankside, London. Until 26 October.
Written for The Stage