As You Like It
"As for Robert J Williamson himself - he is the powerhouse behind this company. His portrayal of Hamlet was moving and humane - his delivery of lines now so hackneyed from overuse on television adverts actually meant something and somehow avoided the realm of cliché." BBC Online
"There can be few better experiences than watching Shakespeare in the open air in an atmospheric setting like Nottingham Castle - especially when it's done as well as the British Shakespeare Company do it. Over the past couple of years I have seen them develop to such an extent that there are no genuine challengers to their tag of "Britain's largest and best loved open-air Shakespeare company".
It's only a matter of weeks since I saw the RSC perform As You Like It in the Swan. This version, done in Edwardian costume, is so much better you almost think it's a different play.
Martha Swann is probably the most passionate Rosalind I've ever seen. She is absolutely smitten from the moment she meets Orlando! She is charmingly attractive in the early scenes, full of fear when Duke Frederick banishes her and sprightly when she cross-dresses as Ganymede. The male lead can be difficult because Orlando can come over as soppy or sentimental. Gary Tushaw, though, plays it perfectly, putting the right amount of emotion in and never overplaying the role.
From even before the play begins, when Adam (Michael Gabe) sits on hay bales with Jody his faithful sheepdog at his feet, you know you're in for a special night. The set is bigger and more elaborate than previous productions and at Nottingham there's an extra grandstand this year because the company's reputation has continued to grow.
Early on the fight between Duke Frederick's wrestler Charles (Lincoln James) and Orlando is spectacular as they use the full width of the set and make it look so authentic you're expecting to see blood on the grass. The audience joined in too, booing Charles the way grappling fans used to show their derision during televised wrestling bouts.
As for Robert Williamson himself, he takes the role of Touchstone as well as co-directing with Frank Jarvis. Williamson is exceptional in tragedies and he proves he can also do comedy, extracting every possible laugh from the text as well as speaking each line with clarity and meaning.
The RSC version, I felt, lacked passion, jollity and the feelgood factor. This production has them in abundance." British Theatre Guide
"Casting himself as the lead as Hamlet, Robert J Williamson the Leeds born actor is more than worthy of the role, radiating a boundless enthusiasm, The cast give solid performances, most notably Superman's Sarah Douglas as Queen Gertrude in her return to the UK stage, and Michael Gabe as the bumbling Polonius. 4 Stars." Yorkshire Post
The Guardian Guide's "Pick of the Week" (4 weeks running)
"A must see event. Immense physical energy, pace and faultless projection of dialogue are the hallmarks of both productions. This is Shakespeare at his most entertaining and accessible. Highly recommended." Wharfedale Observer
"You would have thought that 400 years after Shakespeare wrote his greatest works, there wouldn't be any new way to "speak the speech" apart from "trippingly on the tongue". But with the British Shakespeare Company, you're always guaranteed something a little out of the ordinary yet without gimmicks.
Robert Williamson comes on stage for the "To be or not to be" speech with a falcon on his arm, the bird being dispatched onto the grandstand roof after the first few lines.
Williamson is in his ninth year of putting on open-air Shakespeare festivals, so he knows what works and what doesn't. His production is memorable because it's different.
Not only does Williamson speak his lines clearly and with understanding, he gives you new insight into Hamlet's character. This is most notable when he faces the ghost of his father for the first time. You only hear the ghost as Hamlet writhes on the stage, scrunching himself up into the foetal position as he is overcome with grief at the extraordinary revelation of the king's murder.
It's an excellent portrayal by Williamson: you laugh with him when he's making fun of Polonius, you feel for him when he hesitates over his quest for revenge and you want him to come out on top although you know that can't happen.
If you think Williamson has taken on too much, organising the whole tour as well as directing and taking the lead role, that's certainly not the case. For a start, he's surrounded himself with actors who are veterans of BSC productions and know exactly what he's looking for, so presumably they don't need much direction.
Michael Gabe is a fine Polonius, not a dodderer but a sprightly trouper who makes the most of his comical lines; John Ioannou's Claudius is commanding without being completely evil; and Darrell Brockis is a passionate, animated Laertes. As for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Jonathan Coope and David Patterson are similarly flamboyantly dressed and change suddenly from fawning to fearful when Hamlet sees through their scheme.
There are also solid performances from Sarah Douglas as Gertrude, Callum Hayes (Horatio) and Lincoln James, the cheeky gravedigger. The beautiful singing of Natasha Kemball starts and ends the evening.
Emily Lloyd as Ophelia, however, who is appearing in her first stage production, is disappointing. BAFTA-nominated for her role as Linda in Wish You Were Here, she can sometimes hardly be heard. Occasionally she speaks too quickly and often recites her lines without appearing to grasp the meaning. She seems detached from what's going on around her, she appears neither frightened nor concerned when Hamlet orders her to a nunnery and there is little change in her behaviour as she descends into madness.
All in all it's a superb production which enhances even further the reputation of both Williamson and his company." British Theatre Guide
"The large cast of professional actors hit the ground running. With delightful live music and splendid fireworks as a finale, is a most enjoyable experience." Yorkshire Post
BAFTA Best Actress nominee Emily Lloyd as Ophelia
Sarah Douglas as Gertrude
Richard Keynes as Melancholy Jaques in As You Like It