'As You Like It' review – a generous, giddy and joyfully queer production
Read our three-star review of romantic comedy As You Like It, now in performances at Shakespeare's Globe to 29 October.
The pull of the pastoral life is a persuasive one. ‘Cottagecore’ aesthetics have long been a prominent feature on social media, and the idea of being able to start over in idyllic surroundings has a particular appeal to marginalised communities seeking a safe space in which they’re free to be themselves – as exemplified by Shakespeare in his creation of the Forest of Arden as a sanctuary for his exiled heroine Rosalind.
Ellen McDougall’s joyfully queer Globe production of As You Like It, Shakespeare’s bucolic comedy with its tangled array of gender identities, is boisterous and warm-hearted, if somewhat over-busy and something of a curate’s egg in terms of execution.
Instead of using the song words provided, the production features original musical breaks. Michael Henry’s compositions, some based on existing pop songs, have the audience clapping along, but they aren’t the most uplifting and tend to take us out of Shakespeare's world. The best is "Let My Heart Rise", marking the death of faithful servant Adam with affecting harmonies, and the wedding underscoring is nicely done.
The production’s greatest asset is its strong Rosalind, Orlando and Celia trio. Orlando, so often more drippy than dashing, is imbued with initiative and ardency by Isobel Adomakoh Young, and Nina Bowers’ giddy, fast-talking Rosalind has a dancer’s grace – though, strangely, Rosalind’s convention-breaking, ultra-queer epilogue is replaced with an interpretive dance that showcases Bowers’ impressive backbends.
Macy-Jacob Seelochan is a loving and expressively exasperated Celia, and her abrupt pairing off with Jessica Murrain’s rakish Oliver feels more plausible than it often does. However Alex Austin’s Jaques is more wide-boy than anguished melancholic; his ‘Seven ages of man’ speech gets rather lost in the proceedings.
Tessa Parr brings welcome fluency to Touchstone the clown, Stephanie Jacob’s Adam is touchingly reincarnated as shepherd Corin, and Jessica Alade is an enjoyably flirtatious Phoebe. Some of the lines get thrown away amid the exuberance, and the action that takes place among the groundlings (including the wrestling scene) is lost to much of the audience.
Costume designer Max Johns provides handsome grey-and-white court clothing and Celia cheekily borrows a groundling’s baseball cap to signify "poor and mean attire". Rosalind’s Ganymede costume cleverly consists of the original bodice in reverse and the skirts as pantaloons, and she becomes more dishevelled as the show goes on with drooping stockings. The foresters’ more eccentric costumes include some lovely feathery shoes.
With lavender sprigs given to the audience before the show and apples handed to lucky groundlings, there’s no lack of generosity. At the end, the audience is invited by Emmanuel Akwafo's Hymen to join the venue’s queer family – a fittingly inclusive conclusion to this year’s summer season at the Globe.
As You Like It is at Shakespeare's Globe through 29 October. Book As You Like It tickets now on London Theatre.
Photo credit: As You Like It (Photo by Ellie Kurttz)
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