ALEX WALDMANN knows his way around the ring thanks to boxing training, but the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) actor admits he finds the wrestling scene difficult in As You Like It because it comes within the first 20 minutes of the play which arrives in the North-East in November.

Cast in the starring role of Orlando, Waldmann has to wear a mask at the beginning of the bout and is attacked by his opponent. He reveals this was the idea of director Maria Aberg as part of the intended “humiliation” of his character.

“She felt that this was ugly and brutal and where the court paid to watch people knock hell out of each other was entertainment. We worked hard with Malcolm Ranson, the fight director, and I’m hoping it will be easier at Newcastle, where the audience is at the front. When the audience is all around you (three-sided layouts at all the RSC Stratford theatres) it’s very hard not to reveal that punches almost connect,” he says.

He and the muscular Mark Holgate, who plays Charles the champion wrestler, spent hours in the gym to ensure the fight looks realistic.

Waldmann feels that Rosalind’s (Pippa Nixon) show of affection is what allows Orlando to fight back and win, and begin the love match between the pair, which is the central story of Shakespeare’s comic tale of hidden romance.

Audiences are interested in the “ring” where the fight takes place and later it becomes part of the Forest of Arden, where Orlando and the disguised Rosalind meet again.

“The ring is a rubber mat. It was meant to be mud for the wrestling, but you can’t have that for hygiene reasons. So the company came up with this mat instead.

In an ideal world we’d have used real mud,” he says with a smile.

His many scenes with Rosalind disguised as the youthful Ganymede show the audience how she/he teaches the hot-headed nobleman to talk to a woman he wants to marry.

“What’s been fascinating with this play is that people have been coming to see it and it has had a profound effect. People have gone away and talked about their own marriage. We always wanted to ensure that people celebrated love and although we end with the mother of all weddings (four couples tying the knot), it’s all about the marriage that comes afterwards.”

WALDMANN is one of the RSC’s rising stars and can be seen in all three plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal in the Tyneside season – the others being Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well. But it is As You Like It which is proving to be the crowd-pleaser at Stratford.

He feels that Orlando falls in love with Rosalind three times. Once at court, once as Ganymede and then with the real Rosalind.

“My idea is that whatever form she takes, she could dress as a bear or a lion and he’d still fall in love with her. So it’s not only about a man and a woman, it’s about the spirit he falls in love with,” Waldmann says.

He thinks it’s the best private joke that 1,000 people in the audience know something that Orlando doesn’t.

The Cambridge-born actor has spent the past 13 years in London. He and wife, theatre director Amelia Sears – the couple have a two-year-old daughter, Ella – run the independent theatre production company SEArED. On the current season for Newcastle, Waldmann says he’s lucky to have landed the roles of Orlando, Horatio in Hamlet and that of party-boy Bertram in All’s Well.

“They are all completely different parts and All’s Well has been going down a storm at Stratford and I think people in Newcastle, who haven’t seen it before, will really enjoy it and wonder why it’s labelled a problem play. Shakespeare just set out to write a play which has incredibly complex characters. Academics have said it’s a problem play because they can’t label it,” says Waldmann about the work which is one of the Bard’s darkest comedies.

“It’s been labelled a fairytale about love and war, but we’ve tried to explore the human element and it’s got a beautiful set by Katrina Lindsey and there’s something about it which feels like an old school RSC production. By the end, the audience is the judge and jury of where the morality lies because everyone has someone to blame for the way they’ve acted.”

Possibly, at the heart of the confusion about All’s Well is the central character of a woman setting out to get what she wants.

“I think for Bertram, it’s really important for him to try to make amends for his mistakes. The way I try to approach any part is to find the human being.

Orlando is described as a good guy, but often played as a boring wimp,” says Waldmann “As you get older as an actor you accept the fact that you don’t have to be liked as an actor you just have to be understood. When Bertram is forced to marry, you could have put Claudia Schiffer in front of him and he would have still found an excuse. It’s nothing against Helena (played by Joanna Horton).

He just doesn’t want to be tied down at 16. He just wants to go off to war and fight.”

Hamlet, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Friday, October 18 until Saturday, October 26.

As You Like It, Tuesday, October 29 to Saturday, November 2.

All’s Well That Ends Well, Tuesday, November 5 to Saturday, November 9.

Box office: 08448-112121