Sunday, 10 June 2018

'As You Like it' at Shakespeare's Globe

Last week we went to the new production of 'As You Like It' at Shakespeare's Globe, the first time I've been in well over a year. This is Michelle Terry's first season as artistic director at the Globe so it's interesting to see what sort of direction she is taking the place. If 'As You Like It' is anything to go by, then it's in broadly the right direction for me. The season is gender-blind and that worked well enough for this production.

The last time I saw 'As You Like It' was at the National Theatre a few years ago and I loved the trees of the Forest of Arden in that production - in this one, there are no trees, just a bare stage, but I still saw a forest. Sometimes less is more and the imagination is a powerful tool.

It's the tale of Rosalind and Orlando, one the daughter of a Duke banished from her home and the other has been done out of his inheritance by his brother. They meet brief and fall in love before they have to flee separately into the Forest of Arden for their lives. To ensure her safety, Rosalind dresses as a young man and that's where things start getting strange since she meets Orlando in the forest and urges him to live out his love for Rosalind by pretending that she is, well, Rosalind. Which of course she is. But ... It gets complicated.

It's even more complicated since Rosalind is payed by a tall man and Orlando is played by a small woman - I'm sure their relative height difference was an influence on the casting. I didn't mind the gender-blind casting at all and, if anything, it actually brought some nuances to the play that we wouldn't have otherwise had. Of course, way back then, Rosalind would've been played by a boy anyway.

A bit more challenging was casting a deaf woman as Celia, Rosalind's cousin and partner in crime, who has quite a bit of explanatory dialogue in the first few acts. The actor signed her lines rather than speak them and I think she did really well in this, maintaining the drama while her hands were working overtime to sign the words. The only problem there was that there weren't any surtitles so there were chunks of speech I missed because I didn't have the text in front of me. There must be a common-sense solution to that.

All in all, I have to say that I thought it was a great production and a big return to form for the Globe. I liked the bare stage, the simple lighting and the absence of amplifiers - this is simple Shakespeare that uses those immortal words and the imagination to bring it to life. The costumes were lovely, especially the mad costumes for the clown figures and the floral gowns of the two ladies. It all worked very well for me and, for a Shakespeare comedy, even got me laughing out loud.

The only real downside for me was Bettrys Jones who played Orlando and who seemed to have difficulty projecting her voice - for chunks of the first few acts I could hardly hear her. I don't know if it simply takes time for her voice to warm up or what but it was rather frustrating. Other than that, she was a great Orlando scampering around an imagined forest pinning poems to trees. However, a great new find was Tanika Yearwood who had great projection and a good singing voice too. I also liked Nadia Nadarajah as Celia.

Jack Laskey played Rosalind with some great comic timing and moments but it seemed as if he was channeling a manic Jack Whitehall at times so maybe calm that down a bit. I also really liked Pearce Quigley as the melancholic Jaques in his back suit. He had some inspired moments, not least eating a banana and then starting into the 'All the world's a stage' speech with his mouth full. Naturally he swallowed and started again for such a great speech but it's the little touches like that that help to bring the play to life, to make it part of the here and now.

Well done to Michelle and to the ensemble, I think this is possibly my favourite version of 'As You Like It' so far. It was great fun and, I suspect, truer to the spirit of the play that other versions. I'm seeing a few other plays in this season so I'm hopeful for good things. Looking forward to the next one now!

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