Shakespeare's Globe, London SE1
  Opened 8 June, 2009

A Midsummer Night’s Dream may be more widely held as a favourite Shakespeare comedy, but there is something about the gender switchback of As You Like It that makes audience and actors uniquely complicit in overturning conventions. There are enough occasions in Shakespeare when women disguise themselves as men, but only Rosalind when pretending to be Ganymede then prevails upon her suitor Orlando to pretend that “he”, Ganymede, is Rosalind and woo her/him/her. (Of course, a fourth twist was present in original productions when Rosalind was played by a boy.) We commit ourselves together to this playfulness and embarrassment of psychosexual riches.
Thea Sharrock’s first-ever Shakespeare production is the third As You Like It I have seen so far this year, and is neither the best nor the worst. It is by and large a straight interpretation (pace the gender-bending a-go-go). Naomi Frederick is acceptably androgynous, but does not impose any exaggeratedly laddish persona upon her Ganymede; in a nice touch, though, her masculine attire is identical to that of Orlando. In that role, Jack Laskey is every inch the late adolescent, with a strong yet appealing undercurrent of flippancy running through his portrayal. In contrast Dominic Rowan’s Touchstone seldom lets you see him working for laughs, and is the better for it; Rowan’s comic forte is to be earnest to the point of pomposity 90% of the time and spend the remainder in ludicrous self-deflation. I am less convinced by Tim McMullan’s Jaques, who is not so much melancholy as languid, perhaps even permanently half-pissed; his Seven Ages of Man speech seems downright desultory.
Sharrock uses the entire space of the Globe: characters regularly enter and exit through the groundlings’ pit (Orlando’s early wrestling match even spills off the stage into it), Jaques is discovered at various points amongst the audience on each of the theatre’s three levels, and Orlando’s love poems come fluttering down on us from the topmost gallery. She also nips and tucks the script comprehensively, rearranging scenes, excising superfluous characters, unintelligibly archaic references and turns of phrase. This is carried to excess – do we really need “withal” to be repeatedly trimmed back to “with”? The production plugs nicely into the performance dynamics of the Globe and makes for an enjoyable summer evening, but it stands out not at all.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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