There is no doubt Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s fiercest female characters. The RSC’s As You Like It is a vibrant production that explores many different types of love and Lucy Phelps has leapt at the challenge to play the stellar role on the RSC stage this Spring.
“There is such a strong feminist voice coming through in the play,” Lucy explains. “You follow Rosalind’s story and it’s wonderful that Shakespeare was following this female narrative of a very complex, intelligent woman on a voyage of self discovery.”
Within the play there are a multitude of bold characters that all link to the central theme of love. “It’s not just about romantic love, there is a real emphasis on female friendship and love between Celia and Rosalind,” Lucy says. “Shakespeare doesn’t take a huge amount of time focusing on female friendships and the love between women, so that has been amazing to explore.”
Lucy assures me she feels the pressure when taking on the role of Rosalind, but she tried to put that to the back of her mind and approach the role with fresh eyes. “Poor Rosalind has been analysed and scrutinised in essays and blogs, and I have been thinking about what I have to say about her that is different,” Lucy explains.
“With every group of people that are performing the play, everybody’s feelings, thoughts and concerns are all infused into the production. Shakespeare is amazing because he seems to sing out to every generation. Instead of me saying ‘this is my interpretation of Rosalind’ it’s a very collaborative show and we have all been very good as finding the message we are sending out as a company.”
“Rosalind is a woman that is not judged for her appearance but she is explored for the complexity of her spirit, the prowess of her intelligence and an exploration of her emotional life.”
The director of the show Kimberly Sykes has gone for a really interesting style, as the play isn’t rooted in any particular space or time. “Kim always starts with the text, she works in a very detailed way to see what we are hearing from the play. Ultimately she wants to create a world that seems recognisable but isn’t time-specific. I think Kim’s interest lies in allowing the audience to see. Everybody is allowed to pose their own thoughts and emotions and she is leaving space to do that.”
Lucy explains that whenever you look at a Shakespeare play and consider it in modern context, you still go back to the Elizabethan time and believe there was no feminism going on. However, if you really look there were lots of strong female voices calling for equality, even back then. “We are always working with one foot in the contemporary and the other in the past,” Lucy says.
“It is great to be standing on stage as a woman, taking up space, saying ‘listen to my story.’”
When people watch the RSC’s production of As You Like It, Lucy wants them to take away two things. “Firstly I want them to have a fabulous evening at the theatre and see a piece of theatre that they want to see over and over again. I really mean that, because Shakespeare isn’t always easy and accessible, and he should be. I really want the audience to feel part of the play, especially since it has such a theatricality to it,” Lucy says.
“But I also want it to spark big conversations that are already being had about equality and inequality. It is a play that presents those ideas quite boldly and is asking us to really think about how we live, how we love, what restrictions we place on each other and how we can find freedom and self-discovery in our world.”
As You Like It is on at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 31st of August, tickets and information can be found on their website.
Photo credit: RSC Topher McGrillis