As You Like It
May 25 2015
The Globe is a unique theatrical space. The presence of the groundlings, those happy audience members who stand in the thick of it, amongst the players and the playing, change everything. They are there for a good time, even when the darkest tragedy is being performed. The open space, the open air, the open expectations of the groundlings combine to produce a theatrical environment which is unique. Even at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, the feeling is not the same: there the audience sits and watches; at the Globe they have to be pushed aside sometimes, get spat at or drenched in water or blood or whatever, their moving physicality is part of the production. They cannot, and should not, be ignored.
While this makes the space vital and interesting, and affords the director real prospects for ingenuity of staging, it almost always means three things: (a) a lot of shouting; (b) a lack of lyricism in the delivery of text; and (c) bawdy jokes, gimmicks and routines to get the groundlings giggling. For better or worse, and with only the rarest of exceptions, that is what a ticket to the Globe will provide.
Blanche McIntyre’s revival of As You Like It, now playing there, is no exception. She uses every trick in the book to make Shakespeare’s play clear (it is, very), risqué (it is, very), engaging (it is, almost always) and funny (it is, often). There is music, dancing, cross-dressing, the carcass of a deer, lusty jostling, a tap-dancing clown, and a cross-dressing God of Marriage. There is much for the groundlings to delight in, as well as a few “oohs” and “awws”.
Fatuous people often opine that “real” actors don’t do musical theatre. Tell that to Judi Dench or Jonathan Pryce is usually my response, but there is no question that there is snobbery afoot, particularly with that most dangerous of God’s creatures: the casting director. It always fascinates me that such folk think nothing of casting a “real” actor in a musical, but have no time for the notion that a musical theatre star could be ideal for casting in a play. Those who think that way should hurtle to the Globe to see Daniel Crossley’s Touchstone, as witty, delightful and surprising a clown as may be wished for.
Touchstone is often regarded as terminally unfunny, and often is so in performance. But not here. Together, McIntyre and Crossley refashion the approach, sew in some splendid, showy, tap-dancing (not just of Crossley’s feet but also, metaphorically, with maidens of the forest) and produce a wry, dry, charming and witty Touchstone. This musical theatre star succeeds where many a “real” actor before him has failed.
Rosalind is a part that has launched a thousand careers, of actors as vastly different as Vanessa Redgrave and Adrian Lester. Michelle Terry takes the role here and gives an assured, overtly laugh-seeking performance about which there is much to admire. Her characterisation is built on her lust for Orlando – once he takes off his shirt to reveal his finely sculptured torso, her vocal exhalation of “Phwoar!” casts the die. From there, it is just a question of how she is going to manipulate things to get her way with Orlando.
Generally speaking, you can approach As You Like It in two main ways: it’s either about Orlando and his transformation or it’s about Rosalind contriving to make Orlando love her. The most deft directors fuse both approaches equally, but that requires a cast of even skill. McIntyre, wisely, chooses to make this revival about Terry’s Rosalind and her pursuit of Simon Harrison’s six-pack…I mean Orlando. And so Terry has permission to go crazy and, wholeheartedly, she does. She is a very funny, very physical Rosalind. And her performance is like manna from the heavens for the groundlings.
But Terry has a much better, more subtle, more lyrical, Rosalind within her, and it would be grand to see that Rosalind. That she can deliver Shakespeare gloriously and with lyric virtuosity is clear from her turns at the National and the RSC, and, indeed, there is a hint of that of which she is clearly capable in her delivery of the Epilogue here. Would that there had been more lyricism and less lust.
For his part, Harrison’s Orlando is a glowering hunk, a kind of Arden jungle Tarzan waiting to be tamed. There is little by way of transformation for this Orlando, but that isn’t fatal. More frustrating is the way the gender confusion and consequent underlying sexuality incoherence is largely unexplored. Sure, there is one tantalising moment when Orlando seems about to kiss the “boy” Rosalind but it is as brief as it is tense. Terry does not make much effort to adopt manly traits for her cross-dressing exploits, but, again, in the grand scheme of where this production is pulsing, that is no huge deal.
As the cynical (in a profoundly modern sense) Jacques, James Garden produces a character short on melancholy but awash with sarcasm. The result is funny, but in a quite different way from that expected. Again, the poetry and prose suffers, but McIntyre is not emphasising that, so no surprises there.
Ellie Piercy (Celia), Sophia Nomvete (Audrey) and Gwyneth Keyworth (Phebe) are all boisterous and amusing, but in very different ways. Of the men, Perri Snowdon, Jack Monaghan and Phil Whitchurch do the best work. David Beames is frankly unconvincing as either Duke (he plays both the ejected and the ejector) and very difficult to understand; William Mannering is too bland as Orlando’s brother, Oliver, and there was no true sense of wonderment at his first sight of Celia.
Johnny Flynn’s music is odd but tuneful and although it does not really evoke any sense of the forest or nature, the beats are clear and mood is right more often than not. Andrew D Edwards augments the Globe stage with long ramps, so there are more acting areas, more opportunities for groundling mingling and more opportunities for questionable stage pictures. But his manner of evoking the forests of Arden (little greenery, but pillars adorned with curled gold leaves) is as glib (and works) as much as McIntyre’s vision of demonstrating the differences in temperament, possibility and sensuality between Court and the rustic Arden.
This is not an exquisite or especially romantically joyful As You Like It. But it amuses easily enough and there is no lack of clarity in the telling of the lusty tale. The raw, bawdy bounce is so prevalent it might be subtitled Carry On Up The Arden Jungle.
And fair enough. This is the Globe where popular, groundling appeal is the order of the day. The groundlings are well served by McIntyre and her cast, led by the energetic Terry.