So it’s been a good fortnight since my last post, but that’s because I’ve travelling a little and was rendered inarticulate by one-too-many food comas. I know I’ve promised a post on Macbeth, and while that’s mostly written, today’s A Spot of Shakespeare will feature a review of the Globe’s thoroughly entertaining production of As You Like It (directed by Blanche McIntyre), which I had the pleasure of seeing while in London.
I went to the opening night with my good friend Costy, who, as it happens, has seen a previous production of As You Like It at the Globe (but she preferred this one—I’d like to think her stellar theatre companion had something to do with it). Despite our relatively last-minute booking, we managed to nab two £16 seats near the base of the stage and with a restricted view. Here’s how we experienced the production:
It turns out we didn’t have to worry about the view, because when a production is as good as this one, you can enjoy it wherever you’re seated. And golly, this one was just so much fun, I would’ve seen it again had I not already got tickets for the Globe’s The Merchant of Venice as a standing Groudling (and it was an okay production, but hasn’t inspired a review).
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy written during 1599-1600, with “pastoral” meaning the play is mostly set outside the confines of a court or city, and in lovely verdant pastures and forests (here, we have a semi-fictitious Forest of Arden). In fact, the play begins in the not-so-nice court of Duke Frederick, who has usurped his elder brother, the now-exiled Duke Senior (yeah, I’ve also wondered if he has another name). Dukes Senior and Frederick both have daughters, Rosalind and Celia respectively, and the cousins remain in court because BFFs stick together, regardless of evil fathers.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot in case there are spoilerphobes here who’ve not yet experienced As You Like It, but I must mention a central romantic plot revolving around Rosalind and Orlando, who has an evil older brother. What struck me most about this production is the pure physicality of the lovers, who first meet during a wrestling match of sorts. In the script, we see something like “Charles and Orlando wrestle”, or “they wrestle”, or some such variation, which is immediately followed by Rosalind declaring: “O excellent young man!” Unlike the initial meeting and poetic exchanges of other lovers (Romeo and Juliet come to mind), Rosalind and Orlando are supposed to feel this immediate attraction that is largely sexual (though their “relationship” develops and deepens throughout the play), and this physical attraction is almost completely lost on the page…
…and wonderfully brought to life in this fantastic Globe production, complete with a half-naked Simon Harrison as Orlando (who has a scrumptious back, might I add) and a beautifully gowned Michelle Terry as Rosalind, who flushes, squeals, and fangirls over Orlando (and his back). Establishing this initial chemistry through action and body language is perhaps the single most important feat for any performance of As You Like It—otherwise, it becomes incredibly difficult to believe Rosalind would go to such lengths to pursue Orlando when they’ve not had a substantial verbal exchange. And goodness, does Michelle Terry shine in her role: she is, in turn, flirtatious, serious, intelligent, wise, and fangirly. On a side note, I’ve seen Michelle Terry in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing (styled by the RSC as Love’s Labour’s Won), and goodness me, now I want to see all her Shakespeare performances.
Director Blanche McIntyre continually stresses the crucial physicality and sexuality of the play, and the supporting cast do a fantastic job in carrying them out: Daniel Crossley’s Touchstone and Sophia Nomvete’s Audrey are convincing as a couple in lust; Jack Monaghan’s smitten and steady Silvius remains loyal to Gwyneth Keyworth’s suitably obnoxious Phebe; and oh my goodness Simon Harrison/Orlando’s back. And his arms. And his fine, fine torso…
The musical numbers are also a great delight, and satisfy my not-so-inner Shakespeare music scholar: composer Johnny Flynn’s settings of Amiens (William Mannering)‘s songs have an intimate, singer-songwriter quality well-suited to Shakespeare’s lyrics, while “It was a Lover and his Lass” is a robust performance with a jolly tune, splendid tap-dancing, and solid choreography throughout, which had us all in stitches.
I must also mention James Garnon’s spectacular rendition of Jacques, whose “melancholy” isn’t the entirely broody/angsty/emo interpretation I’ve seen before (and disliked), but contains a witty and sarcastic dimension that makes his character much more believable (and likeable). His delivery of the “all the world’s a stage” speech is everything I’d hoped for, and the way he embraces this role—which is so very different from what I’ve seen of him before as the super icky Cardinal in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (Globe, 2014)—cements him in my must-stalk-Shakespeareans list.
My only substantial misgiving was about the relationship between Rosalind and Celia (Ellie Piercy). Remember how I earlier referred to their uber BFF-ness that defies awful relatives? Unfortunately, much of that is lost, and there are even a few uncomfortable moments when Rosalind dismisses Celia in favour of pursuing Orlando. I happily enjoyed a lot of the other playfulness and silliness, but replacing this sisterly bond with epic fangirling just isn’t right. I know As You Like It is not meant to be an overly serious play (though, being Shakespeare, many moments do invite contemplation and consideration), and I could tolerate this deviation because I know the source material quite well, but I wouldn’t want any newcomers to get the wrong impression: Rosalind really isn’t a ditzy, entitled, rich girl who only cares about getting the hot guy!
All in all, if you live in London or have a chance to visit, I would recommend you go see this production. For those who don’t have much or any experience with Shakespeare, I truly think this is an excellent introduction—the comedies can be flat on the page and lukewarm on a mediocre stage, but this rendition of As You Like It is simply dazzling, and will remain with me for a while to come.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Directed by Blanche McIntyre for Shakespeare’s Globe
15 May – 5 September 2015
£5 standing; £16 – £43 seats
Have you seen this or another production of As You Like It? Do you have any experience with the play in any way? Or do you have any questions you’d like to ask? Please do drop me a line!