STAGE REVIEW: As You Like It - at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until August 31, 2019.

THIS is one of those productions that has so much going for it that it will, almost certainly, be just as you like it.

There are several ‘crackling’ performances - enough to make the mouth water, a number of wonderful odd-ball characters, some great comedic moments and, of course, there is gender fluidity.

Mix those ingredients together in the bowl and it really is a rich pudding to please the palate and senses!

Shakespeare, as we know, always wrote for the audience and here his mind’s work probably created one of the most wonderfully dynamic environments for the full exploration of the relationship between those on stage and those in the seats. And as it would have been in the Bard’s day - the standing areas.

The audience is drawn into the proceedings as actors flit from stage to a vacant seat, hide among the audience, programmes shared and volunteers cajoled out of their comfort zone for a few moments in the spotlight.

And subtle knowing glances or more serious stares in the audience’s direction also achieved as much as words or action.

The play itself takes us deep into the Forest of Arden where the Duke Senior has found refuge with others after being exiled from the court by his brother, Duke Frederick - with both roles deftly taken on by the experienced hands of the appropriately named Antony Byrne, who was equally exellent as Mark Antony, in Antony and Cleopatra last year.

The other unfortunates in the forest, also banned from home, manage survive together by living off the land.

This steadily puts into place the story but when Duke Senior is joined by the impoverished Orlando (David Ajao), and then the exiled Rosalind and her cousin Celia, and Orlando’s brother, Oliver, the tempo is quite literally upped and frantic fun becomes the order of the day.

Fellow foresters include Charlotte Arrowsmith’s ‘Plain Jane’ Audrey, a most amusing goatherd, who has to use sign language to make herself understood, and she is coveted by the forest fool Touchstone.

Rosalind has, by this time, disguised herself as a young man, which creates a problem as she tries to rebuff the approaches of Phoebe, a shepherdess, and all the comic properties the play possesses were rising rapidly to the surface.

There was a moment when Sandy Grierson, playing the madcap role of Touchstone in skin-tight Rupert the Bear-style trews, suddenly became in the mind’s eye, Billy Connelly in all his pomp and pageantry. A scintillating and punchy performance which delivered delightfully.

There’s a quartet of love stories revolving and evolving and director Kimberly Sykes, who received considerable acclaim for her quality production of Dido, Queen of Carthage - her RSC directorial debut, once more enhances her reputation for the novel and exciting interpretation revealed here.

Two years on she’s been entrusted with the first Stratford main-house of the year production and she doesn’t disappoint with this inventive and enjoyable staging.

She elicits and encourages an outstanding performance from stylish Lucy Phelps, in the main role of Rosalind, and also with David Ajao’s Orlando, while a touch more understated it still scored high on quality.

One such switch helped one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines to come across with fresh resonance as Sophie Stanton, playing Jacques, a traveller, casually remarked - “All the world’s a stage”.

It’s a statement that brooks no argument in this complex plot where resentment and retribution are bed companions but no blood is spilt in achieving aims as true love wins the day and the Bard’s work rapturous applause.

***Running time is three hours including a 20 minute interval.