fri 06/12/2019

As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe

As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe

Warmly traditional Shakespeare needs more theatrical magic

Lovestruck: disguised Rosalind (Michelle Terry) counsels Orlando (Simon Harrison), watched over by cousin Celia (Ellie Piercy)Bill Knight for theartsdesk

The Forest of Arden takes many forms, but in Blanche McIntyre’s meticulously purist production, its strictly a state of mind – no leafy bowers in sight. Here, the unspoken can be voiced, the bounds of gender and class broken, and courtly conventions stripped away to reveal folksy values. McIntyre’s is a typically astute interpretation, but – other than a couple of well-deployed props – lacks the playfulness and invention that might help a languidly earthbound three hours take flight.

Shakespeare’s comic take on pastoral romance begins with a flurry of banishments. Usurpring Duke Frederick exiles brother Duke Senior (both David Beames) to Arden, then packs off Senior’s daughter Rosalind (Michelle Terry, pictured below with Ellie Piercy) when she overshadows his daughter Celia (Piercy); the devoted cousin flees too, along with fool Touchstone (Daniel Crossley). The final émigré is Orlando (Simon Harrison), denied his inheritance by brother Oliver. The exiled soul mates reunite, though Orlando is in ignorance, as Rosalind, fearing trouble on the road, has disguised herself as a boy. She undertakes to cure Orlando of his crippling devotion by having him woo her as “Rosalind”.

As You Like It, Shakespeare's GlobeThe convoluted plot – not one of the Bard’s more elegantly woven narratives – makes for a trying first half; spirited later scenes reward patience. McIntyre effectively establishes the ritualistic social hierarchies, in contrast to Ardens ease, and the opening stateliness provides striking tableaux, if uneven drama. The central pair’s “love at first sight” thunderbolt – first of many – has touching adolescent awkwardness, but the burning ardour remains one-sided. Harrison’s humourless Orlando displays more passion for WrestleMania than Rosalind; he’s a fighter, not a lover.

Terry, in contrast, fully embodies the giddy derangement of ungovernable desire, whether squawking at Orlando’s bare torso or stalking the stage as she interrogates Piercy’s no-nonsense Celia about his absence. The cousins’ longstanding friendship – “like Juno’s swans…coupled and inseparable” – is beautifully conveyed through heartfelt intimacy, playful provocation and wry exasperation. It’s a satisfying portrait of united female resourcefulness, even as Rosalind slyly mocks the fairer sex’s idiosyncrasies while in brazen male guise.

This semblance is never particularly convincing, in keeping with McIntyre’s forest as a place of thinly veiled pretence rather than magic and wonder. Such deception can be a path to truth – or, more cynically, the two are interchangeable. Melancholic rumination on the subject is undercut by the climactic appearance of a Conchita Wurst-esque bearded Hymen (Gary Shelford), a startlingly pantomimic take on fluid identity.

The philosophers impress, Crossley’s Touchstone the furiously incisive stand-up to James Garnon’s deadpan observational comic Jaques. Beames’s dukes are underpowered, but there’s solid support from Will Mannering’s fuming Oliver and Mumford-like crooner Amiens, and Sophia Nomvete’s voluptuous Audrey; the latter helps deliver a toe-tapping, boldly creative musical interlude. Rosalind’s epilogue counsels us to “like as much of this play as please you”, and many will be charmed by this warmly traditional production. For others, the handful of innovative gems will prove indispensable.

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