THE PERILS of mixing love and nostalgia are well-documented. Countless marriages suffered as the Friends Reunited craze briefly encouraged many to confuse the thrill of distant first loves with the practicalities of later responsibility.
Sometimes going back and giving young love another try is a dangerous and ultimately destructive road.
But looking back and encountering once again the stirrings of passion sit perfectly and provide a rare joy in this inspired and inspirational production.
We find ourselves not in the Forest of Arden but in a rehearsal room peopled not with the brash confidence of youth but with a group of older folk trying to recall and rekindle the fervour they once had.
To reawaken and re-form the remnants of a show 45 years ago and, where possible, have them re-inhabit those dimly-remembered characters gives Omar Elerian’s production a charm and a poignancy to cherish. It is simply a great idea.
Memories of the far-off days of the 1970s are hazy; memories of the script are on occasion equally hard to pin down and the addition of a clutch of young actors filling parts, providing comedy and keeping a close eye on the lines as virtual onstage prompts is superb.
The style right from the start is one of muddling through regardless – perhaps a bit disingenuous as this, for all its apparent stutters, is a very slick, very well-crafted show.
There are performances to be applauded and treasured throughout this production as the quality of mature craft meets the vulnerability of the mental and physical demands of delivering this complex and passionate play.
Malcolm Sinclair’s Orlando puts the words and thoughts of the young lover behind a face that speaks of the weariness of pursuit but never drops from being somehow completely believable on all levels.
Geraldine James as Rosalind simply shines throughout. Besotted from the off, she uses her wit to perfection but finds a self-deprecating reality that gives the character an extra dimension youth would not allow.
Arguably the performance of the night away from the main protagonists comes from James Hayes as the clown Touchstone, mastering not only the twists of the wordplay but revelling in the indignity of the part’s daftness and the ambivalence towards getting everything right that age brings. It’s a very funny, very refreshing performance.
Will Gregory’s fine reworking of the songs give a triumphant vintage feel and Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s design is simple and versatile, keeping – as we all hope life does – a charming secret surprise for the very end,
Perhaps the most poignant moment in what is a decent collection of moving moments, comes right at the end when Robin Soans’s new epilogue directly addressed by Geraldine James reminds us all of the treasure that is love in later life and the priceless value of our very fragile memories.
Details of all RSC productions can be found at rsc.org.uk