There is no better place to watch one of Shakespeare’s comedies than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. Entering the Globe Theatre feels like stepping 400 years back in time. Authentically reconstructed, based on the original 16th century structure, the Globe is an open air theatre, exposed to the elements, pigeons, helicopters and aeroplanes. Naturally lit, the Globe allows its actors to build a rapport with the audience, which is unique to this venue, and works astonishingly well when staging Shakespeare’s comedies. Running alongside Hamlet in Michelle Terry’s debut summer season as Artistic Director, As You Like It sees the same Globe Ensemble cast tackle one of the Bard’s greatest romantic comedies. In a play that already has its characters swapping genders, Michelle Terry’s inclusive, gender-blind casting works to superb comic effect and results in a thoroughly entertaining production.
“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”
Some may feel that it is controversial to cast a male actor as Rosalind. She is an iconic role and is given more lines than any of Shakespeare’s other female characters. However, Jack Laskey plays the role so well, it is hard to argue against his casting. Having already played Orlando in the Globe’s 2009 production, Laskey is a wonderful Rosalind. His chemistry between the other characters, particularly Celia, is infectious and delightful. He is believably lovestruck with Bettrys Jones’ Orlando and stays effeminate, even when cross-dressing as Ganymede. It is a casting choice that harks back to the tradition of men playing female roles in early-modern theatre. To counter this, Bettrys Jones plays Orlando. I initially had doubts about Jones’ casting as Orlando, but I was quickly converted. It is a stroke of genius. Seeing such a small actress playing the ‘muscular’ Orlando, wrestling in the play’s opening scene, was absolutely hilarious. Jones’ small stature is constantly exploited to provide some truly funny moments in the play. Jones and Laskey make a delightfully heart warming Orlando and Rosalind. Their relationship is believable, endearing, and a complete joy to watch.
However, it is deaf actress, Nadia Nadarajah who steals the show as Celia. Nadarajah, who also plays Guildenstern in Hamlet, combines British Sign Language with invented signs representing Shakespeare’s archaic language, such as ‘Forest of Arden’, ‘knave’ and ‘Orlando’. Converting Shakespeare into sign language must have been a challenging task, considering the complexities and rhythms of iambic pentameter. It is a testament to the intensive rehearsal schedule that the sign language used in As You Like It felt natural and could be understood. It was truly refreshing to witness BSL being incorporated into a play and I hope that it encourages more diversity and inclusivity within the arts, with disabilities being represented better. Nadarajah proves that there are no boundaries to making Shakespeare work on stage. Her Celia is perfectly enchanting. She has an irresistible chemistry with Jack Laskey’s Rosalind, solidifying their friendship into a ‘sisterly’ love. This was enhanced by their constant communication and interaction with each other when other characters were speaking. Nadarajah’s mannerisms are wonderfully expressive, particularly as her character gets more exasperated with Ganymede’s outlandish scheming. Her astonished reaction to being asked to ‘marry’ Ganymede and Orlando is hilarious. I loved very minute that Nadia Nadarajah was on stage in both Hamlet and As You Like It. I hope she returns to the Globe in more productions!
Globe veterans Pearce Quigley, Colin Hurley and James Garnon increase the comedy tenfold. Pearce Quigley’s melancholic Jacques is highly entertaining and shows his vast experience at the Globe by interacting with the audience during his monologues. Skulking in the shadows of the stage and dressed in a black velvet suit, he is the perfect choice to play Jacques. Quigley delivers the play’s most famous line; “All the world’s a stage” whilst munching a banana and playfully picks out a schoolboy in the audience for his Seven Ages of Man speech. Quigley is a natural, comedic performer, and his Jacques is a wonderfully playful interpretation of Shakespeare’s mournful character. Colin Hurley’s Touchstone, the fool, is equally amusing, particularly in his bizarre relationship with James Garnon’s superbly sluttish Audrey. Their scenes were incredibly funny, and were some of my favourites in the play.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players”
As You Like It has more songs than any other Shakespeare play and the majority of them were sung beautifully by Tanika Yearwood. The rest were vibrantly performed alongside dances by the ensemble. The usually outdated “hey nonny no” song, hilariously performed as suggestive, romantic ballad between Touchstone and Audrey, had me in stitches. All the songs are authentic instruments, by the Globe’s fantastic musicians, who make the experience of watching a play in this theatre even more magical. Every play ends with a jig, as they did 400 years ago, and As You Like It had the best choreographed, most ecstatic, joyful jig I have seen at the Globe. The audience had a fantastic time and clapped along with the music. The joy that these jigs bring is infectious and it is hard to leave the Globe without a smile on your face.
It is true that most of the comedy in As You Like It is slapstick, but it is a thoroughly charming and incredibly funny production. I felt that this was a better, more accomplished play than Hamlet. But like Hamlet, it is a delight to see a play so embracive and inclusive to gender, ethnicity and disability. I hope these plays pave the way for more diversity, and that other productions follow the Globe’s Ensemble’s example. If these plays provide a glimpse of the Globe ‘s new direction under Michelle Terry, then I applaud it, and highly anticipate what will follow!
Photo credits = Tristram Kenton