Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Blanche McIntyre
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
As You Like It isn’t one of Shakespeare’s better plays, although it is a very popular one. Its narrative is rather thin and most of the characters lack a rounded depth – that is not to say it is a bad play but the comedies are in some ways more difficult to get right. It is far easier to ask an audience to sit through 180 minutes of tragedy because a decent body count and the drive of revenge / murder / deception keeps them gripped, but with comedies sustaining a protracted bit of mistaken identity and some banter over more than three hours, as is the case with the Globe’s latest production, is very tough sell indeed.
The play opens in the court of Duke Frederick who has usurped his brother Duke Senior and banished him to the nearby Forest of Arden. Rosalind (Senior’s daughter) has stayed at court as best friend to Celia (Frederick’s daughter) and are witness to a wrestling match which is won by nobleman Orlando who flees to the woods. Rosalind disguised as a boy and Celia disguised as peasant maid follow him and while in the forest encounter love in many forms before discovering where their own futures lie.
This new version at the Globe is keen to emphasise the strength and agency of its female characters with both Rosalind and Celia proving feisty and resourceful heroines. Their scenes together excitedly plotting and giggling are the best in the show, clearly outclassing the men around in them in both wit and ability to shape events. The decision to utilise the same actor as Dukes Frederick and Senior is a useful one, although David Beames doesn’t do quite enough to distinguish them, while the courtiers too are shared although the characters do become somewhat interchangeable and harder to distinguish for those unfamiliar with the play.
This As You Like It is almost entirely played for laughs and provides a number of crowd-pleasing moments including a great dance routine with Touchstone and Audrey in the second half, and some WWF-style wrestling early on. But by so strongly emphasising the humour, the sacrifice is the love story which doesn’t quite convince in this actually very long production. ‘No sooner looked but they loved, no sooner loved but they sighed’, Rosalind says at one point but if that were true this would be a very short play. The first half is around an hour and 15 minutes, while the second about 1 hour 45 minutes; it starts and ends well but is tough going in the middle sections as pace slackens. No one dies, no one really debates the profound nature of love, as say Hamlet considers death or Macbeth murder, so at least 30 minutes of this should be cut to drive it along a bit.
There are a lot of good performances, particularly Michelle Terry’s forceful and independent Rosalind who has a comic exuberance that makes her character feel very modern. She is well matched by Ellie Piercy as a bouncy Celia and William Mannering in the dual rôle of Orlando’s nasty brother Oliver and fine-voiced courtier Amiens. Daniel Crossley plays well to the crowd as Touchstone, but Simon Harrison’s Orlando was harder to place, not entirely convincing as the man of action or the swooning lover, and certainly not the equal of this gutsy Rosalind.
‘I like this place, and willingly could waste my time in it’ Celia proclaims which equally applies to the atmosphere of the Globe which always lends a particular charm to watching Shakespeare’s plays. This production may not have anything new to say about the play but its focus on the humour is certainly entertaining and a good opportunity to see Shakespeare’s heroines take centre stage.
Runs Until5 September |PhotoSimon Kane