Monday, 8 June 2009

As You Like It - Shakespeare's Globe 2009

As You Like It
Shakespeare's Globe, London, UK.

I was grinning all the way through Thea Sharrock’s new production of As You Like It at the Globe. I couldn’t help myself. I just sat there with a big smile on my face, occasionally bursting into a belly-laugh. This should tell you everything you need to know. Do I need to write any more? Well…

For this production, the Globe stage has several extra columns added to its already plentiful supply, clothed in black silk at the start for Duke Frederick’s court, and then shedding their restraining vestments to reveal a bark-like covering instead of their usual marbled complexion. Thus is the Forest of Arden simply revealed. But it does not confine itself merely to the space of its (extended) stage, oh no. The entire theatre becomes the forest, with sections of the play acted out around it accordingly. The audience had better watch out.

Naomi Frederick as Rosalind, and Laura Rogers as Celia are a well-matched pair, girlish and giggling over love and life even before their escape to Arden, with Rosalind becoming bolder and freer as the play progresses. At first it is clear that Rosalind is merely testing out her new persona of Ganymede, but later on – as in her reprimand of Phebe and her treatment of Silvius - she becomes as confident as if she really were a man. With her angular features, easy movements and boyish swagger, Frederick embodies the ‘pretty youth’ that is Ganymede. She is matched both in height and costume with Orlando (Jack Laskey), a thin, unkempt and wild-looking young man, with more than a hint of the romantic-poet look. Speechless from his first meeting with Rosalind, he quickly falls under her control, even allowing her – as Ganymede – to kiss him full on the lips. Tongues I’ll hang on every tree vows Orlando, and indeed he is true to his word, racing around the theatre, sticking sheets of verse to every post and column within reach. In a wonderfully comic and romantic touch, sheafs of handwritten poems also drift down from the upper gallery, coming to rest amongst the audience. This device is repeated at the end of the play, and the leaves as they fall are reminiscent of wedding confetti raining down on the joyous couples.

In a move contrary to popular tradition, Thea Sharrock chooses to cast two different actors to play the two dukes, and this allows her to have them onstage at the same time, their scenes overlapping and making sharp contrast to one another. Leathered and greased Duke Frederick (Brendan Hughes) snarls and sneers in classic villain style, but later on shocks us by dragging onstage and tormenting a bloodied and bruised Oliver (Jamie Parker). Duke Senior (Philip Bird) is less groomed, more relaxed, kindly, but on this occasion perhaps the less memorable of the two brothers.

Some songs are missing from this production, and it doesn’t show the passing of seasons as well as some, (despite having a real campfire onstage), but these are mere observations rather than gripes. Peter Gale as Amiens sings the remaining songs beautifully, and sets us up for our meeting with Jaques in an excellent comic manner. Tim McMullan as Jaques brings a strange kind of sensuality to the role, indulging himself so heartily in his melancholy and biting humour that we cannot help but like him as we laugh at him. McMullan’s is by far the most interesting interpretation of Jaques that I have seen, and his recital of All the world’s a stage and 'Tis a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle seem particularly apt when used in the roundness of the Globe.

Dominic Rowan as Touchstone is a very postmodern fool, dressed as a traditional jester complete with identically-dressed ninny-stick. Good use is made of this device later on in the forest, when dressed in travelling clothes he pulls out a ninny-stick also so dressed. Handsome and deep-voiced Rowan plays Touchstone as a man playing at being a clown and perhaps a little tired of doing so. His wit is very much edged with irony and the knowledge that he is putting on a show. Not the commonly seen Shakespearean clown, this is a fantastic interpretation of Touchstone and one of which I would like to see more. The minor characters in this production are also well-cast and well-performed, with a noteworthy performance by Michael Benz as Silvius, who plays with an air of frantic wild energy.

Thea Sharrock’s direction, Dick Bird’s designs, Stephen Warbeck’s music, Kevin McCurdy’s fights and Fin Walker’s choreography, all come together to make this a superb production of As You Like It and one which is – no doubt – worth seeing twice. Just remember that the epilogue here comes after the jig – and is worth the wait. 

 This review was originally published on The Shakespeare Revue

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