“I would love you if I could”
Are certain of Shakespeare’s plays done to death whilst other neglected? When asking a friend, with whom I caught up briefly this week, what he was going to see this week, my response to him saying As You Like It was ‘which one?’. This may actually be the only production currently running in London – though I did take in the Royal Exchange’s modernised version on my trip to Manchester last month – but it does feel we are never too far away from As You Like It in one shape or another.
This particular production, which has played a few dates at Shakespeare’s Globe in the midst of a considerable UK and Europe jaunt, has the similar small-scale touring feel to the Hamlet that opened the Globe’s season this year with a small cast of travelling players – here in Victorian dress – covering all the roles and providing the musical accompaniment, all from the large wooden box that dominates, and forms an integral part of, the stage.
Emma Pallant won my vote for outstanding player of the night: her Madame Jacques makes great use of the gender switch to provide acres of unspoken context for her deep aching sadness and as Phebe, she finds a great spikiness – her looks to the audience could stop armies – as she is wrangled into accepting the love of Silvius. Gunnar Cauthery makes an appealing Orlando, drawn to the schoolgirlish effervescence of Jo Herbert’s Rosalind and close chum Celia, played with a nice generosity by Beth Park.
Herbert is generally very strong as Rosalind and her alter ego Ganymede, balancing her protective sharpness with an endearing playfulness and a true sense of heart. The only problem for me was I found it hard to cast Cush Jumbo’s extraordinary performance at the Royal Exchange out of my mind: to be sure, it’s completely different and so impossible to compare but it was the type of interpretation and performance that lives in the mind.
Overall, I did enjoy myself, but couldn’t help but feel that it was perhaps a little too light-hearted and whimsical, the darkness that is a part of the story undercut a little too much – the strength of Pallant’s performance is almost too much for the production in some respects. I was quite tickled by John O’Mahoney bearded Audrey yet as it often the case with Fools, I didn’t care much at all for Gregory Gudgeon’s Touchstone – bawdy mime may get big laughs and so is prevalent in Globe productions but it is increasingly becoming one of my bugbears.
James Dacre’s production weaves in music in a great way throughout, the players demonstrating a nice range of instrument skills, the energy on display is admirable and as someone encouraging me to go beforehand pointed out, the Comedies are much better suited to this style of playing – I really didn’t feel that it worked for Hamlet. This is a production which provides solid entertainment rather than the freshness of interpretation my AYLI-weary soul craved and was teased with, but ultimately it felt very much in tune with the venue and the audience expectation. I still can’t help but feel we might all benefit from giving productions of this play a rest for a wee while.
The only bad thing about the experience was the group of Spanish people who basically ruined much of the first half with their constant chatter, shuffling and moving of suitcases, they hushed a little after a stern word from me (Mother would be proud!) but the behaviour was frankly appalling. Maybe it is the price you pay for cheapness of Yard tickets but not for the first time this year, my enjoyment of play-watching at the Globe has been seriously hampered with ushers unable or unwilling to intervene when requested.