I had something of an uneasy start with this play; the first time I saw it was at the National, with a cast including Rosalie Craig & Patsy Ferran – I didn’t hate it by any means (the sheep certainly proved memorable), but it didn’t leave me wanting to see the play again any time soon. It took a double dose in 2018 (courtesy of the Globe and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre) to properly convert me, as the Globe Ensemble’s approach to casting worked a lot better than the accompanying Hamlet with Jack Laskey as Rosalind & Nadia Nadarajah as Celia, and the fully grown Forest of Arden that comes with the territory in Regent’s Park immediately setting the scene – not to mention the gorgeous folksy interludes from Charlie Fink. The most recent RSC version only really picked up after the interval, so it was up to TSMGO to get me back onside again.
Doctoral candidate Rachel Chung was on hand to introduce the play this week, drawing particular attention to Shakespeare’s green world: “the sovereign self-sufficient world” that is the forest, a place of safety as well as danger. As in all its appearances, it’s a “microcosmic world already in full swing” and the polar opposite to the civilisation that the characters leave behind, usually managing to be the catalyst for the happy ending we hope is in store. It’s interesting to note that the people are able to live there securely, though not as themselves; Rosalind & Celia have to take on different identities, and the banished Duke’s court reinvents themselves as Lords of Arden. “Everything is reversed” as Rosalind is given agency in the guise of Ganymede and “comes to embody the forest”: wild, untamed & a “threat to masculine order”. The forest has “profound, supernatural power”, and “allows one to inhabit one’s own otherness”. It is interesting to consider how Rosalind will live her life after her positive experiences in the forest – can she return to a traditional feminine life of domesticity, or will she always yearn for more..?
Rosalind’s father has been banished by his brother, who has taken the dukedom for himself – Rosalind is allowed to remain at court, however, as she has always been close with her cousin Celia. This all comes to a perplexing end following Orlando’s surprise victory in a wrestling match against Charles, as she is told to leave immediately; Celia refuses to let her go on her own, and they take new aliases – Celia takes the name Aliena, to reflect her situation, and Rosalind becomes her brother Ganymede, after Jove’s page. Their fool, Touchstone, is persuaded to accompany them. Orlando has also fled to the forest, as he is under threat from his brother Oliver, bringing with him his servant Adam. Once he’s settled, he uses his newfound freedom to pen love poems about Rosalind, hanging them up on the trees; he eventually encounters Ganymede, and Rosalind hits upon a plan that will allow her to spend time with Orlando (as she’s also in love with him) – he will refer to Ganymede as Rosalind, and woo her until he is ‘cured’ of his lovesickness. What could possibly go wrong..?
In her introduction, Chung suggested listening out for Rosalind’s views on marriage – I decided to expand that slightly to also note down what she thinks about love in general. It’s a bit of a mixed bag! When the subject is first mentioned by Rosalind & Celia it’s in relation to their boredom; they need amusement so perhaps they could look for love? From seeing it as sport, suddenly things change when Rosalind meets & falls in love with Orlando – she refers to him as “my child’s father” in conversation with Celia not long after they’ve met in an immature, teenagers in love kind of way. Once she has some experience of being out in the world as Ganymede, we hear her thoughts on marriage: “Men are April when they woo, December when they wed. / Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.” So perhaps a little more cynical than she had previously let on?
After seeing Mark Anthony’s famous funeral speech done in a fresh & naturalistic way last week, it was great to see a similar approach by Alexandra Kataigida for Jaques’ “All the world’s a stage” this time; it felt very off-the-cuff and, again, as if the words were just coming to her. I also enjoyed the lords of Arden either not understanding, or simply not getting, her jokes (or Jaques’ japes) – reacting with blank faces or as if they’re being confronted with dad jokes. And yes – Jaques is pronounced as in Jakes! I’ve never quite understood the Jay-kweez pronunciation that I think was used in every previous production; obviously I’m not one for noticing the beats in a line and I don’t know how this affects it, but according to Shakespeare’s Words runner extraordinaire Ben Crystal ‘Jakes’ is the most frequently used pronunciation. That’s about as definitive as you can get!
This was another alumni ‘end of season’ special, so lots more familiar faces back on our screens. Austin Tichenor rather fittingly based his Duke Senior in his garden, and his First & Second Lords of Arden (David Ellis & Luke Heys) provided some exceptional comic reactions at various points during the show. Phoebe Elliot & Michael Ahomka-Lindsay were an incredibly well-matched Rosalind & Orlando – sometimes amusing, other times moving – and Tamsin Lynes a bright & bubbly Celia was another wonderful addition. I think we can all agree, however, that Nat Kennedy stole the show as an hilarious & cucumber-wielding Touchstone – despite some spirited attempts by a selection of feline-looking goats early in the second half… The physical comedy of “filling one doth empty the other” was a definite highlight!
The gender-blind casting made the gender confusion of the play all the more fun to watch – see Oliver (Candice Handy) questioning Ganymede’s manhood, for example. Enric Ortuno’s choreography for the wedding dance was a lovely way to round things off (become a Patron to see a tutorial!), and Ganymede/Rosalind directly addressing Phebe, Silvius & Orlando with Elliot taking on some dynamic camera movements. All in all, yet another brilliant show.
Next week: Hamlet
As You Like It was broadcast on 5 August 2020. The Show Must Go Online runs every Wednesday at 7pm and is also available to watch afterwards. Become a Patron at The Show Must Go Online’s Patreon page. The Show Must Go Online merchandise is available from Redbubble.