Michelle Terry’s regime at the Globe starts with this uneven but entertaining take on Shakespeare’s forest romcom
Anybody expecting the Globe to become a chintzy Shakespeare museum, in the wake of the untimely end of Emma Rice’s boisterous regime, doesn’t know the Globe.
Actor-director Michelle Terry is kicking off her time in charge with a rep season of ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Hamlet’ that features, as she recently said to Time Out, ‘a gender-blind, race-blind, disability-blind’ company of actors. With a hodge-podge visual aesthetic that’s equal parts trad Elizabethan, Victorian vaudeville and bang-up-to-date modern, it’s also a pointed break with the period-accurate Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole regimes. Terry may be banned from using the beefy light and sound rigs that threw Rice into conflict with the Globe’s board, but she’s clearly her own artistic director.
So does it work? There are some peculiarities to this production of beloved comedy ‘As You Like It’, but the pointed diversity is not going to be an issue for the worldly 2018 theatregoer. Indeed, the boldest stroke, the casting of deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah in the role of feisty noblewoman Celia, is fantastic – signing her lines, she provides a smart, sardonic comic foil to the loquacious sadsacks around her, and there are a couple of nice pickups on Shakespeare’s text that even support the idea the character might be non-verbal.
A bit weirder is the ostentatious non-deployment of Terry: she pops up in a variety of smaller roles in the forest-set comedy, but it feels odd that the most famous actor in the show is barely in it – this balances out her starring role in ‘Hamlet’, but that’s not particularly relevant if you’re not watching ‘Hamlet’.
Where I struggled most was with the casting of Jack Laskey as the show’s heroine, Rosalind. I guess it’s fine to give the biggest female role in the Shakespeare canon to a man (though that’s maybe something worth a moment of thought). My problem was that for all intents and purpose he played the part as a slightly bemusing David Tennant impression (for reasons too complicated to get into, Rosalind spends most of the play pretending to be a man). He seemed out of place, and was consistently blown off the stage by the marvellous Bettrys Jones as his spunky paramour Orlando.
The show is co-directed by Federay Holmes and Elle While, who are not – by Globe standards – particularly experienced. They never quite get the rambling comedy to cohere. That said, the process behind the show has clearly empowered the actors (who were, unusually, brought in at the start of the creative process). There are some great turns here, the best from Globe regular Pearce Quigley as a sort of depressed lounge lizard version of the melancholic Jaques. The production is a bit light on laughs, but he ratchets them up effortlessly: there is an absolutely priceless scene in which, apropos of nothing, he suddenly notices the audience; later he delivers the iconic ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech while noisily eating his way through a banana (if this doesn’t sound funny, it is very funny).
I’m not sure as sprawling a play as this is the perfect candidate for the direction-lite, actor-heavy experiment that is this company. But Michelle Terry has come out swinging, and for the most part her experiment feels justified.
|Venue name:||Shakespeare's Globe||Contact:|
New Globe Walk
|Opening hours:||Globe Exhibition and Tour daily 9am–5pm. Closed Dec 24 and 25. (Check in advance for dates when the tour is not available.)|
|Transport:||Tube: Blackfriars/Mansion House/London Bridge|
|Price:||£5-£45. Runs 2hr 45min|
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Worst was the playing of Celia by a deaf actor who did not speak. Globe says it is “gender blind, race blind and disability blind”. Of course disabled actors should have their parts, but surely not at the expense of the script. It isn’t a big part, but Celia’s scenes with Rosalind are vital. The actor playing Celia did her best to mime and sign the content of the script, but failed utterly (not her fault) to substitute for the words. In her scenes with Rosalind, who did speak, it was like watching just one side of a phone conversation. It was bizarre and unsettling.
As for gender blindness, nothing wrong with that. Rosalind is played by a man, fine, but he acted like a man, did not attempt to be stereotypically feminine. He was just a man in a dress. So, there was no contrast between Rosalind as woman and her comic attempts to pass herself off as a man later on in the play. Even worse was casting a women in Orlando’s role about 18 inches shorter than the Rosalind actor. As Shakespeare wrote it, Rosalind pretends to be a man while talking to the man she is in love with but without him knowing who she is, and the result is comic, and a strong erotic charge with homosexual overtones.
But in this production that was lost. What we got mostly was the pantomimic absurdity of a tall man in a dress fancying a short woman in trousers. The gender blindness here somehow managed to drain the play of much of its suggestiveness. Gender-switching is fine, but you should have a reason for doing it – think Fiona Shaw as Richard III or Harriet Walter as Henry IV; they are major actors who can pull it off. But in this company it seemed that any actor could play any role and it isn’t supposed to matter. Both the Duke and his brother were played by the same (female) actor wearing the same costume, which took ages to work out. The mooning lovesick shepherd boy Silvius was played by a 50-year-old man with a pepper and salt beard.
Casting is important; why go to the theatre if it doesn’t matter who plays what? Listen to it on radio instead; at least you would be concentrating entirely on the words.
Many in the standing area loved the panto approach, especially younger ones, but I doubt they knew how much drama and poetry had been sacrificed to the broad comic strokes. It almost felt as though the script was an embarrassment to the slapstick. I could go on, but it’s too depressing. I already bought tickets to Hamlet by the same company and am dreading it.
Not quite as bad as the previous week's Hamlet. At least here the ensemble cast looked like they were enjoying themselves, and there were laughs aplently, mostly at the right times as well. But then, unlike Hamlet, As You Like It lends itself to pantomime, and this production seems little more than that.
I saw this - well as much as I could bear of it - on Sunday. It's possibly the worst Shakespeare I have ever seen. It has to be pulled. You cannot expect people to pay to see this. It's completely nincomprehensible - people standing around spouting lines without any idea of what they are doing or why. One paced, no atmosphere, no sense of place, generalised acting with no connection to reality. It's a mess and shows exactly why you need a director.
Saw this last night (5th May). Sadly this bears out exactly why plays needs directors and not direction by cast committee. No creative energy, no focused ideas, no creative arc. The occasional glimmer of inspiration from the cast (Jacques, Jester, Audrey) but otherwise dull, dull, dull. Even music, dance and costume a sad shadow of past performances. Shakespeare at its worst! Come on Globe Theatre, you can do so much better than this!