Camden New Journal
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
The Review - FEATURE

Amanda Harris as Celia (left) and Lia Williams as Rosalind in As You Like It

Lia and husband Guy Hibbert relax in their West Hampstead garden

Lia after winning her Bafta for Best Actress in the BBC drama ‘May 33rd’ in 2005

The garden of delight for Bafta-winning Lia

Award-winning actress Lia Williams makes her Royal Shakespeare Company debut in As You Like It, writes Tom Foot

URBAN and rural worlds collide in Shakespeare’s As You Like It as characters flee inner-city pressures into the Forest of Arden, and return rejuvenated.

But who needs Arden when you live in Camden?
The idylls of country life are just on your doorstep, according to West Hampstead actress Lia Williams set to play the lead in the RSC’s Shakespeare’s As You Like It in the Novello Theatre this month.
“It’s my oasis,” says Williams about the communal garden at her home in Chomley Mansions Aldred Road where she has lived for seven years.
The West Hampstead block, like many others in the area, has its own rambling green space not unlike the forest of Arden’s “shade of melancholy boughs” described in the play.
“I absolutely love West Hampstead,” says Williams who has won a Bafta award for a television role in ‘May 33rd’. “There’s a real sense of community in Chomley Gardens – it is a real haven. It’s right next to Kilburn, which is totally mad, and also the Heath, which is so restorative. I always change my route when I walk on the Heath – I like to get lost.”
In the play, Williams plays Rosalind – the most inspirational of Shakespeare’s strong-willed women – who is banished to the forest by the tyrant Duke. Dressed as a man, she teaches the tongue-tied but brave Orlando how to get the girls and in doing so falls in love.
Williams’ delight in the green pastures of West Hampstead is not the only parallel between her and the character she plays. In the play, Rosalind finally gets her man, Shakespeare staging a surreal wedding scene with the god Hyman floating down on stage. On the first preview night, when the production opened in Stratford last summer, Williams experienced her own romantic fantasy.
With applause still ringing in her ears, her longtime partner and BBC documentary maker, Guy Hibbert, met her backstage and proposed.
“I was still in my wedding costume, which was a little strange,” she says. “I was still buzzing from the performance. I can’t remember much of it. I was just reading his lips.”
Her husband’s work for the BBC takes him around the world. At present, he is filming a documentary about oil prices in Nigeria.
She says: “It’s a little worrying, given Nigeria is on the verge of civil war after the Prophet Mohammed cartoons. I hope he comes back soon.” One person who won’t be hoping for an unannounced return is Lia’s 16-year-old son Josh. With his father off travelling the world and his mother still performing another play in Stratford, the teenager – who goes to University College School in Hampstead and wants to be an actor – is looking forward to creating his own parent-free utopia in the West Hampstead pad.
She says: “This is the first time I’ve felt like I can leave him alone. I don’t think he’s too worried about us both being away. In fact, I think he’s quite looking forward to it.”
Williams – who has performed in a host of West End shows and television productions – does not think her own successes have given her son false ambitions.
She says: “He has seen me fail and he has his head screwed on. I don’t think he has any false romantic impressions about becoming an actor. I think he knew from a very early age and we will support him all the way.”
Williams is still performing Brett Neveu – a story of community, murder and revenge – in Stratford and must return for two weeks before As You Like It starts in London.
She says: “It’s such a change to play the grieving, rotting Janice in that play. It certainly affects your mood. I’m euphoric when I’ve been rehearsing Rosalind. She represents life’s possibilities and freedom. Playing her was an incredible opportunity.”
As You Like It is the climax of the RSC’s season of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The story has only just finished in the West End, David Lan’s innovative production – set in 1940s France with Sienna Miller as Celia in the Wyndham’s Theatre – will be fresh in the memory of Shakespeare enthusiasts. Another dose, from the RSC, known for a more conventional approach, may seem too soon. But Williams ensures the RSC production, directed by the acclaimed Dominic Cooke, has hit the right notes in striving for simplicity.
She says: “The set is simply an enormous oak tree. It looks so real as if it has grown through the set. It is exquisitely straightforward and there is something refreshing about the set – it gets to the truth of the text.”
Ms Williams, who loves to eat at the Gung-ho Szechwan restaurant and rates the polenta cakes in the Wet Fish Café in West End Lane, is good friends with the Tricycle Theatre’s Nick Kent. The actress – who was nominated for a Bafta for her performance of a woman with a multiple-personality disorder on television in 2004 – believes the Kilburn theatre is one of the best in the country. She hopes to perform there one day.
She says: “The Tricycle is one of the best theatres in the country. We are very lucky to have it here on our doorstep. All their shows are worth seeing and I am a big fan of their commitment to new writing.”
Perhaps The Tricycle will be the venue for her debut script, a joint effort from her and her husband, which has commissioned by the BBC. Williams remains tight-lipped.
She says: “I can’t tell you too much about that yet. You’ll have to wait and see.”

• As You Like It                                                  Click here to book theatre tickets
Novello Theatre
Aldwych WC2
March 2-25
Box Office: 0870 950 0940


book online
» A-Z of Theatre
» Local Reviews
» Local Listings
» West End Reviews
» West End Listings
» Theatre Tickets
» Theatre & Hotel Packages


Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions