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16.09.2009- As You Like It

As You Like It, Shakespeare's Globe, 15.09.2009, 2pm.

Yesterday the weather in London was truly dismal; torrential rain persisted throughout the day, and as I battled my way to Bankside through the deluge, I found myself thankful that I wasn't standing for that afternoon's performance of As You Like It. Directed by Thea Sharrock, the play centres on the characters of Rosalind and Orlando, who fall in love at first sight against a backdrop of political posturing and corruption, as Rosalind's father, Duke Senior, is banished by her uncle, the usurping Duke Frederick. Orlando, the youngest son of the recently deceased Sir Rowland de Boys has been much maligned by his older brother Oliver throughout his young life:

After fighting with his brother, Orlando is ordered to flee his home, escaping to the magical Forest of Arden where the exiled Duke has found safety and enjoys an idyllic lifestyle under the boughs of the lofty trees which populate the forest. Back at court, Rosalind, still enchanted by Orlando, is also banished by her uncle as he considers her popularity too much of a threat to his recently attained power. Despite the protestations of his daughter, Celia, Frederick refuses to renege on his decision. Celia decides to flee to Arden with Rosalind, professing that she shall die if she is out of her company. In the guises of the youthful boy Ganymede and his 'sister' Aliena, Rosalind and Celia, accompanied by the jester Touchstone, quit court for the forest. The fates of Rosalind and Orlando are now more intertwined than ever, and as she counsels him on the art of wooing in the guise of a young boy, the effervescent joy and comedy of Shakespeare's piece envelops both the characters and audience alike.

This production is marked by some outstanding performances. Jack Laskey is a youthful and determined Orlando, and brings tremendous energy to the character. Although Laskey's Orlando may not be as physically imposing as some other members of the cast (indeed when pitted against Charles the Wrestler in Act One Scene Two, the audience doubts whether Orlando will escape with his life, never mind defeat the Duke's prize fighter), his wiry physicality allows him clamber across the stage and through the auditorium with ease. His wide eyed declarations of love elicit many a collective 'aaaah' from the audience, and Laskey seems to understand the comedy of the character extremely well, recognising how the subtlest of looks or particular emphasis on a word can transform the meaning of Shakespeare's writing and alter the dynamics of Orlando's relationships with other characters; this is most evident in the banter he shares with former libertine Jaques, played by Tim McMullan.

Naomi Frederick's Rosalind strikes the perfect balance between romantic sentiment and steely resolve, and she seems to relish the challenge of playing Rosalind's alter-ego, Ganymede, using the opportunity of playing a man to create some lovely comic moments which are not immediately evidence on the page. For instance, when she first speaks to Corin as Ganymede, Frederick coughs and then proceeds to deepen her voice, demonstrating her intrinsic understanding of the character as she assumes the masculine traits which disguise her to the point that she becomes almost unrecognisable when compared to the fanciful 'princess' of the first act. Rosalind's relationship with her cousin Celia is completely believable and endearing, demonstrating that Frederick and Laura Rogers, who plays Celia, must have devoted a good deal of time in the rehearsal process to forging a bond which transposes seamlessly to the stage. Rogers, who was enchanting as Helena in the Globe's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream last year, is as equally assured as Frederick in her performance, and she brings a contemporary feel to the character by incorporating modern gestures and inflections into her execution of Celia.

Perhaps the most memorable performance of the piece comes from Dominic Rowan as Touchstone. The character has some of the most simultaneously baffling and hilarious lines of the play, and Rowan relishes in them. His self-assured physicality demonstrates Touchstone's outlandish confidence and his interactions with the groundlings have the audience in stitches throughout. Rowan too, is a gifted actor who has the ability to utilise improvisation to enhance his characterisation; at one moment, a pigeon flew into the theatre, startling both audience and actors alike. Rowan proceeded to shriek when he saw the aforementioned bird, and later incorporated a line about dive-bombing pigeons into a subsequent monologue. In another instance, he produced a small rain hat for one of his puppets, providing a moment of incidental comedy which would not have unfolded had the weather not been so awful. Tim McMullan as Jaques also took advantage of the rain, making his first entrance through the pit complete with an umbrella before proceeding to ask the audience about 'soaking up the atmosphere'. Indeed, all of the lines in the play about 'rough weather' took on a new resonance, particularly for the groundlings who steadfastly remained exposed to the unrelenting elements for the duration of the performance. McMullan and Rowan are two actors who I think were born to perform at the Globe, and have an inherent understanding of what makes it so magical for performers and spectators alike, McMullan in particular demonstrated this when delivering perhaps the most famous speech in Shakespeare's repertoire:

The design of the production also deserves much commendation; costumes feel organic, earthy and cohesive, creating a unified aesthetic which I felt was lacking in the Globe's earlier production of 'Romeo and Juliet'. Dick Bird's design seeks to further include the audience into the piece, through incorporating two platforms onto the end of the stage which extend well into the pit and propel the world of the play quite literally into the laps of the audience. As black material is removed from the set to reveal oak stained wooden beams, the audience find themselves in the forest as suddenly as Orlando, Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone are ejected from court, in a masterstroke of design which takes the audience completely by surprise. The decision to clothe Orlando and a disguised Rosalind in identical brown leather costumes is also a clear demonstration of their compatibility, and Touchstone's costumes are as elaborate and ostentatious as the character deserves. Stephen Warbeck's musical compositions are wonderfully successful in setting the joyous tone of the piece, and Fin Walker's choreography as demonstrated in the closing jig further encapsulates the vitality and spirit of a production which even the foul London weather failed to dampen.

A simply enchanting production, not to be missed. Try and catch it at the Globe before it finishes on October 10th 2009.

(Image credit here and here.)


  1. hey sarah, thank you heaps for following! i still think your header is beeeee-u-tiful! :) :)


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