The Globe season continues with a traditional production of the ever-popular pastoral comedy As You Like It. Thea Sharrock’s bright and breezy direction of this wonderfully humorous and powerfully feminist work is both refreshing and uplifting. In the seductive grounds of the Globe Theatre, with their typically suitable costume choices, this production gives a straightforward and sincere portrayal of the concept of love.
This show is filled with fantastically strong performances, both individually and from the company as a whole. Although she takes a bit of time to emerge from her shell, Naomi Frederick as the feisty Rosalind is an absolute delight. As her determination and confidence emerge, Frederick flourishes into a character of fantastic depth. Disguised as the fresh-faced Ganymede, she presents an intricate combination of manly confidence, feminine insecurity, and swooning adoration. Her costume is entirely convincing and encapsulates an enigma: she appears as a passionate, emotionally powerful female to Celia and the audience, yet when required, Frederick is able to quell her nature and then supersede it with the masculine assurance with which she confronts her lover, Orlando. Until the very end (where, unusually, the epilogue is delivered after the traditional jig), Frederick maintains this endearing and captivating, entirely three-dimensional character.
Jack Laskey’s Orlando is lively and lusty. His boyish good looks and wayward brunette locks make him a believable enticement for the strong-minded Rosalind. Laskey offers a young man full of innocent bravery and joviality. Although slender and even a little scrawny in comparison to the fearless and imposing Charles the wrestler (Sean Kearns), his victory is believable because of his youthful exuberance. There is something of David Tennant in Laskey’s stage presence, which has the same appeal as in the man, himself, although it is so uncanny at some points, one wonders if it is a conscious nod to Tennant. From his first encounter with Rosalind, it’s apparent that there is a truly tangible connection between Frederick and Laskey. It is a wonderful moment fueled by anticipation that carries them through to the end of the play.
Another strong relationship within this show is that of Rosalind and Celia (Laura Rogers). The key aspects that bind this play together so successfully are the utterly believable relationships held between key characters. Rogers presents Celia in the perfect light; although not the most complex of characters by any stretch, Rogers gives her as much complexity as is possible, creating a faithful and innocent friend for Rosalind as she goes about her games of love with Orlando.
By far the most popular performance with audience members—and deservedly so—is that of Touchstone, exquisitely delivered by Dominic Rowan. As is the feeling with much of this production, Rowan’s performance feels incredibly new and modern, yet there are no strange, outlandish gimmicks to grapple. From the very moment he enters the stage in full jester’s costume, the audience warms to Rowan. Before he has even spoken a word, ripples of laughter spread throughout the Globe. With every line, Rowan establishes a surprisingly strong connection with the audience, as if all his jokes are handpicked to make us happy. His delivery of the lines, supported by his endearing physical comedy, allows the humor to shine through every pore. There is nothing angry or frightening about this Touchstone; he is every bit the delightful and desirable companion that we all wish for in our lives.
Yet another commanding performance is Tim McMullan’s marvelously melancholic Jaques. The audience seems to hang on his every word. McMullen’s timing is spot and creates a deliciously moody, yet emotionally complex character. He makes the ever-famous “All the world’s a stage” speech feel as fresh as the day young Will penned it.
Credit must also be given to Amiens (Peter Gale), who performs the play’s well-known songs beautifully. The musicians as a whole should be highly commended. I must confess a note of dubiousness upon noticing in the program that the music is played on modern brass, saxophones and clarinets; however, Stephen Warbeck’s composition and execution, directed by Rob Millett, is entirely appropriate to the production. By the time of the concluding jig, I was literally swept away with the energy and rousing quality of the music. It is by far the most exhilarating and electric performance of a concluding gig I have seen anywhere before. It literally explodes with joy and energy, while the carefree and informal modern dancing of all the cast somehow works exceptionally well.
This splendid ending, topped off with a flawless and uplifting delivery of the epilogue by Rosalind, concludes a performance that can only be described as an absolute delight.