"Can one desire too much of a good thing?" asks Rosalind. Maybe not.
But, although Maria Aberg's new production of As You Like It is a joyous, big-hearted affair, it has yet to acquire – at three hours and 20 minutes running time – the quicksilver fluency we look for in a Shakespeare comedy.
Its chief delight is Pippa Nixon, who, for me, joins Vanessa Redgrave, Adrian Lester and the late Susan Fleetwood in the select pantheon of memorable Rosalinds. Nixon shows her mettle when, at court, she stands up to her usurping uncle with fiery independence. But the real shock comes when she reaches Arden in male disguise. With her slim frame and cropped hair, Nixon is the most plausibly boyish Rosalind I have ever seen. She captures the duality of a character whose wits are sharpened by passion yet who, when briefly abandoned by her beloved Orlando, gazes after him with the bereft sadness of a stricken doe. It is a captivating, wittily androgynous performance that ushers Nixon to the threshold of stardom.
Her presence inevitably has a rousing effect on Alex Waldmann's Orlando, who, in the mock-wooing scene, straddles this seeming boy only to retreat in a state of physical perturbation. There is also an unusually funny Touchstone from Nicholas Tennant, who combines a Max Wall gait with a capacity to buttonhole the audience, and a beguiling Celia from Joanna Horton, who at one point offers a variation on Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line.
Although there's some stirring music by Laura Marling, I am not wholly persuaded by Aberg's idea that the forest of Arden is filled with the communal, free-wheeling gaiety of Glastonbury: this not only overlooks the text's emphasis on "rough weather" and "man's ingratitude" but reduces the melancholic Jaques to a manic hippie. In addition, for all the skill of Naomi Dawson's design – in which perpendicular wooden columns evoke both court and country – there is quite a lot of coarse acting, symbolised by Duke Frederick's signalling of moral turpitude by gnawing on a chicken bone. You forgive these flaws, though, because of the moments of pure ecstasy: when Nixon and Waldmann finally leap into each other's arms, they seem to be gripped by what Shakespeare calls "the very wrath of love".
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