British summer has officially begun. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre has set its band of players onto the road for three months of comedy – As You Like It. And what a riotous three months it promises to be. James Dacre directs a cast of eight who take on double that number of parts in this Victorian adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most loved and revived comedies.
As You Like It contrasts court and country living, explores gender roles, revels in romantic love and would have offered audiences of the time space for a good few hours of escapism and rude jokes.
The staging and text of this adaptation teem with energy and there is rarely a moment when the actors are not bounding about the stage in the slickest and most controlled fashion – dispelling any preconceptions people may have had that the Bard is staid and heavy. The nimble, slap-stick element of the drama mixed with the audience’s shouting, laughing and cheering gives the show all the ebullience of pantomime, sans cringe factor. Indeed, Jacobean comedies such as As You Like It were the precursor to panto.
Gunner Cauthery is well cast as the youth Orlando, banished by his older brother Oliver from their home, lover and pursuer of Rosalind (Jo Herbert), who is required to assume the appearance of a man, change her name to Gannymede, and flee the court of her evil, usurping Uncle – the Duke Frederick.
The part of Rosalind has often made stars of those who assume it (Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren) and it would not be surprising if the same thing happened to Jo Herbert. “Uncommon tall”, Herbert has a powerful stage presence and an equally powerful voice… and also a slight resemblance to the great Redgrave herself in her younger years!
She is accompanied to the Forest of Arden by her cousin Celia (Beth Park) and the motley fool, Touchstone (Gregory Gudgeon). Both Herbert and Park, as the comically exasperated Celia, bring a fantastic dynamism to the double act. Gudgeon as Touchstone is hilarious and one of the many highlights of the production, with his crude gestures and horn honking. At 300 lines, it is one of the largest parts for a fool among Shakespeare’s plays.
Counterpart to the fool is the melancholic Jaques. This production has incorporated a Madame Jaques, as opposed to a Monsieur Jaques, and Emma Pallant is stupenduous as the philosophising depressive. Clothed in an over-sized coat and slighty mannish in mannerism (but slight in stature), Pallant’s dark hair and large dark eyes conjure all the gloom required of Jaques and are also highly appropriate when she switches to playing “black silk haired” Phebe – the country girl, loved by bumpkin Silvius (Ben Lamb), who falls for Gannymede.
Ben Lamb shifts with ease back and forth between his three roles: flamboyant Le Beau of usurping Duke Frederick’s court; brawny wrestler Charles and faithful servant to Oliver; the love sick and spurned Silvius. Fight director Terry King has helped Cauthery and Lamb enact a realistic and brutal bare-knuckle boxing match between Orlando and Charles the Wrestler, carried off with precision and inciting many “ooh”s and “ah”s from the crowd as heads are slammed into walls and elbows collide with faces.
Not only does each actor stand out individually but the cast together has a fantastic chemistry which makes each and every portion of dialogue seamless, heartfelt and engaging. They have made all jokes and puns accessible, without any dumbing down, especially the dirty ones – showing us just how little sense of humour and appetite for the salacious has changed!
Neither, it seems, has Shakespeare’s fascination with cross-dressing and the examination of gender roles. With all the free love, liberation and fluidity of sexuality apparent in the forest of Arden – issues and ideals still very much at the fore of contemporary discourse – it seems Shakespeare was a true avant-garde.
Everything about Dacre’s production from the first to last scene is a joy. Georgina Lamb’s choreography; composer Olly Fox’s beautiful score; designer Hannah Clark’s booth stage and stunning pastoral mural, which earned itself gasps from the crowd as it was revealed.
There are far, far too many outstanding points about this production to mention. And, anyway, it would be far, far better to experience them first hand. As You Like It will meander its way up and down the country and even hop over to the German Globe theatre near Dusseldorf, as well as making a few returns to South Bank’s Globe Theatre between now and September.
Check for a location near you: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/on-tour/as-you-like-it