Q&A with As You Like It Director Kimberley Sykes

  • As You Like It
  • As You Like It

Director Kimberley Sykes tells us all about her riotous new adaptation of Shakespeare's classic comedy As You Like It, playing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (from 14 Feb - 31 August 2019)

What have been your influences for the play?

I think a big influence has been about what a forest is and what it represents. I did a lot of reading into the way forests function and the societal behaviour of trees. When you look into trees and their behaviour, they’re extraordinary. There’s a network of roots in a forest, so all the trees are connected to each other. If one tree is struggling then other trees who have enough, will send nutrients to try and save that other tree through the root system, regardless of species.  They believe – it sounds ridiculous(!) – the success of the forest depends on the success of every single tree within that forest.  I took that as a metaphor for society, and what Shakespeare is asking us to think about as audience members watching this play, especially right now in a time of increased borders and a rise of – you could say – nationalism, and concern with ourselves.

Can you tell us more about your vision for the play?

In many ways the play is a massive exploration of theatre itself. So there will be elements of panto, live music, stand-up comedy on stage.  And there will be audience interaction, political debate and improvisation.

Although everyone will look and feel very modern, we’ll be using a real mingle-mangle of costumes from different productions, and will be playing with different genres, different times, different periods. It’s going to be a real mish-mash that celebrates the art of theatre making.

Rosalind has been described as ‘the female Hamlet’ and has more lines than any other female Shakespearean character. Was this something that attracted you to the play?

Yes absolutely!  I was attracted to a woman who is working out who she is as the play unfolds. I think sometimes with Shakespeare’s women, it feels like they already know who they are. Or that their internal life isn’t really the thing that Shakespeare is exploring in the play. With Rosalind it’s completely different. She changes her mind all the time, and she changes her mind with us, with the audience.

Many well-known actors have played Rosalind, including Peggy Ashcroft, Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins and Juliet Stevenson. What do you think Lucy Phelps will bring to the role?

I think Lucy is relentlessly intelligent and rigorous in what she as an actress and as a woman wants from the world, and she does all of that with generosity and with the most infectious spirit. I think you have to have both of those things to play Rosalind. And that’s something that she has very, very naturally.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this production? 

I would like for the audience to take away a new relationship with their own self.  To feel that change is possible, and that change can come from working together, learning from each other and from being more honest. Being brave enough to jump off the cliff into the unknown.

If you were given the chance to escape to the forest, what three things would you take with you?

My dog, Plato.

My husband.

And a really good walking stick!

As You Like It plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 14 February – 31 August. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for more details.

Photos by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC