As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Blanche McIntyre
Globe Theatre, London
4th July 2015, 14.00
Michelle Terry as Rosalind, daughter of Duke Senior
Ellie Piercy as Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick
Simon Harrison as Orlando, son of Roland De Boys
Daniel Crossley as Touchstone, a fool
James Garnon as Jacques, a melancholy follower of Duke Senior
William Mannering as Oliver, older brother of Orlando / Amiens a minstrel
David Beames as Duke Senior / Duke Ferdinand
Patrick Driver as Corin
Gwyneth Keyworth as Phebe, a shepherdess
Jack Monaghan as Silvius, a shepherd
Sophia Nomvete as Audrey, a goatherd
Gary Shelford as Charles the Wrestler / Hymen
Paul Whitechurch as Adam, old family retainer to Orlando
Perri Snowdon as Jacques (brother of Orlando) / Le Beau
James Donovan, Stefan Trout as Lords
Rosalind (as Ganymede) and Orlando
When I started reviewing plays, the posh newspapers pissed me off. Ah, they said, but if you’d seen the1998 production at the Municipal Theatre, Clacton, you’d know that was the ultimate version etc etc etc, and there has never been a better Orlando than Graham Smith (Coronation Street, 1962-1964) though the three day run in the East Camden Community Theatre in 2003 might be the ultimate Phebe … . I determined not to do it.
Ah, but if you’d seen the 2013 production of As You Like It at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, with Pippa Nixon and Alex Waldmann … and unfortunately, yes, that is the benchmark. One of the best productions of Shakespeare I have ever seen.
As You Like It has proved one of the most popular plays with audiences and with amateur theatrical societies. Critics have complained that it’s disjointed and that having two clown parts, Touchstone and Jacques, means that you get punning line overload. Yes, that’s true. The other complaint is that you have the forest, this wondrous place of licence and licentiousness, but that the various pairs do not link up enough and the narrative meanders as a result. They appear and make their point about love, sex, the universe and everything. You need to create the Forest of Arden as a distinct location where anything can happen … the Glastonbury Festival in the RSC 2013, or a giant magical tree in John Caird’s 1989 RSC production. The differentiation at The Globe in 2015 is banners at court at the edges. Minimal. For The Globe has gone for zero concept. Not a light late Elizabethan concept, but really no concept whatsoever. It’s one of the few we’ve seen there where the base Globe fixed set is totally unadorned. The programme notes that proscenium arch theatres traditionally went overboard in creating a magical Forest of Arden with set and lights. I think that is meant to be a criticism. But it is what was severely lacking in this one. No magical forest. No set. No dance at all in Part One.Precious little music. A few boughs? A backcloth … I’ve seen that used at The Globe and The Wanamaker Playhouse. But no.
The programme again notes that this has the most songs of any Shakespeare play and might be where Shakespeare created musical theatre. For the last several months, my download of the RSC’s Laura Marling soundtrack to As You Like It has been on frequent play. The music here, sadly, is weaker. Much weaker. Authentic instruments mean no volume, so that they played for five minutes at the end of the interval, and we couldn’t hear a thing over the audience chatter. Some might appreciate that tiny guitar like thing they strum as authentic, but when you can’t hear it at all, you think, just buy a modern Gibson Acoustic with metal strings and really strum it. There was not an ounce of vigour in the feeble quiet musical ensemble, not that we saw much at all of them in part one. The songs were solo with tiny guitar, very well performed too, but a pale shade of the RSC music.
How would you start a great Shakespeare comedy? Here, dress everyone in black, have a leaden drumbeat, carry on a coffin, and have a funeral to bury the father of Oliver and Orlando. Oh, dear, no, no, no … absolutely wrong signals. Really bad start. What happened to that trademark Globe lively ensemble stuff?
Oliver (William Mannering) and Orlando (Simon Mannering)
Then it looks up. Every production has something you want to remember as original, and here it was the frantic opening dialogue between older brother Oliver and younger brother Orlando. It was a flat out fight with a very diminutive Oliver and a hunky Orlando. One of the best things in the production. The best I’ve seen that scene.
We got the impression with the minimal set and dull costumes … black or grey with white stockings in the court scenes, beige / taupe for the Forest of Arden … that all directorial effort had gone into lines and actor performance. Very good they were too, but as production rather than stage direction goes, this was the dullest thing we have seen at The Globe. The trouble is, as so many critics pointed out, the double clowns mean so many long convoluted speeches leading to unfunny punch lines. The answer is to cut guff, increase action and business, but this was not what Blanche McIntyre chose to do. Both Touchstone and Jacques were first rate acting performances, but even with actors this good, I’d cut lines, not with a knife, but with a bloody great axe. It’s dull barely comprehensible stuff if you haven’t studied it. Having said that, Jacques did a phenomenal “All The world’s a stage” speech, taking the mickey out of the first two lines in amazement that he has to actually say them, then involving the audience in the Seven Ages of Man. That’s another great bit I’ll take from this production. And they pronounced it “Jakes” as Shakespeare surely would have done as the 16th century word for toilet.
Celia (Ellie Piercy) and Rosalind (Michelle Terry_
The whole thing felt like a star vehicle for Michelle Terry as Rosalind, and Ellie Piercy as her cousin, Celia. Michelle Terry is a natural for the role. The production lit up when they were on, jumping around like excited schoolgirls, fading away when they were off. Michelle Terry was hugely energetic, enthusiastic and funny. Great reactions. Interesting new readings on lines.But schoolgirl pash replaces the needed sexual charge. Ellie Piercy was a great foil, but they were much too far the best thing in the play. I don’t think the Elizabethan male costume helps this Rosalind. You miss the gasp of amazement at how well she has changed to male garb. I thought Michelle Terry exuded “working incredibly hard” and “playing her heart out for a laugh.” One very funny part (also at the RSC) is having Celia laden with a massive backpack when they arrive at the forest. My instant thought was reveal the contents … heated rollers, hair dryer, Magimix.
Of course, being The Globe, there were no weak performances. I would note William Mannering as a very funny and fierce Oliver, doubling as the singer Amiens and doing two solo songs very well. But why was he unaccompanied with a crap instrument when you have four musicians in the balcony? James Garnon’s Jacques was marvellous, but would have been better with 20% fewer lines. Simon Harrison was a strong, hunky Orlando. Sophie Nomvete was an outstanding Audrey. In general, there was too much WIDE separation of actors in dialogue, and not for the first time in 2015, actors side on to the bulk of the audience, back to 25%. They used the ramps to place actors right out in the audience a lot. Great if it’s a ramp you can see.
Celia (Ellie Piercy) and Touchstone (Daniel Crossley)
I wasn’t that impressed with the doubling either. David Beames does both Duke Senior / Duke Frederick well, but the white beard and shining red face (perhaps the product of open air theatre in a heat wave) renders his face too distinctive for such rapid role switching. I thought Phebe’s South Wales Valleys accent didn’t help the needed rural air … it’s an urban accent when we wanted rolling rustic.There was a good ‘slight short thin Phebe’ versus rollicking raucous Audrey, but only Audrey got the sexiness of the play. Phebe was well-cast in being small enough for Ganymede (Rosalind as a man) to twirl round.
It’s the lacklustre production concept that fails. One of the few additions was anachronisms … Touchstone in sunglasses, the priest with modern old lady shopping trolley and thermos flask, Audrey with a silly furry bicycle. Wry smile stuff, but not a laugh. Not part of a strong vision of the play either.
There were NO DANCE NUMBERS in part one. Madness. In part two, we had a dance when the hunters trooped on with a stuffed deer (a stuffed deer that is a veteran at the Globe), and that didn’t connect. Just seemed an extraneous addition. The best bit was a song and dance number (A Lover & His Lass) with Audrey,Touchstone and two others. One of whom who was chosen because like Daniel Crossley’s Touchstone, he could tap dance well. Great. Huge audience acclaim for the only time in the whole afternoon. It got such massive acclaim because that was what we wanted, that’s what we were expecting.There should have been four or five pieces like this, not just the one. Also, who on Earth runs Part One at 65 minutes and Part Two at 90 minutes plus? There’s a credit for “Designer.” What did they design?
The director did not involve music or dance sufficiently. But the use of music and dance is what gets over the disjointed wordiness intrinsic to the play and its convoluted plot. We found it disappointing and below expected Globe standards. That means you will still enjoy it on a sunny afternoon of course. But the strange thing about As You Like It, one of the most popular plays in the canon, is that I’ve seen it half a dozen times, and only one, RSC 2013, ever really got through to me. On the whole I’m with the “anti As You Like It” critics. If you’re going to attempt it, you do need a magical forest, magical lighting and a concept. OK, the Open Air daytime version … then at least have lively colour in the costumes and bring on the dance and music. Repeat: cut lines, add business!
Overall: 3 star … but …
Music: 2 star
Concept: 2 star
Particular acting performances e.g. Rosalind, Celia, Jacques, Touchstone, Orlando, Oliver, Audrey: 4 star
It’s puzzling that the online reviews are often 3 star, but those on the poster are 4 star.
All Globe programmes are state-of-the-art.
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As You Like It