In her first production as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Michelle Terry brings the theatre back to basics with the introduction of an ensemble cast of 12 who will perform several plays throughout this summer season. The jovial As You Like It is the curtain raiser, and it sets the bar at a very decent level.
The ensemble have been in rehearsals for 12 weeks, and although there are two designated directors – Federay Holmes and Elle White – the cast have been given a lot much freedom in how they approach the roles. And this works to great effect with actors that clearly know their strengths.
Pierce Quigley, for instance, brings a comical, stone-cold quality to Jacques, reminiscent of the surrealist stand-up Joe Wilkinson, complete with great bushy beard. But for some, perhaps more guidance wouldn’t go a miss. Bettrys Jones’ Orlando has more of a Tin-Tin quality about him when it comes to wrestling Charles, and lacks the character needed to make this romantic lead believable.
The arrival of Rosalind and Celia herald in something that really sets this production apart, however. Jack Laskey plays Rosalind – a gender-bending character herself - as she flees to the Forest of Arden and seeks assurances of her Orlando’s love. There’s nothing special about that, it’s likely that the first casts of this play featured a male playing the part. But it is the part of Celia, played by Deaf actress Nadia Naharajah, that first transfixes the audience. As she signs her dialogue to her cousin, not only does this make the production that little bit more inclusive, but we learn not only of their special relationship as they communicate in a way pretty much only they how. And credit where credits due to Nadarajah for pulling it off with great panache.
Despite it being an ensemble piece, it is Laskey who steals the show. Completely besotted with love for Orlando from the moment he wrestles Charles, Rosalind shifts into the Ganymede persona, one which fills him with passion and anger and angst. Laskey manages all this, with a loving, and comical approach.
Ellan Parry’s costumes are a flowery delight, mixing modern and period dress, culminating in a beautiful, sprawling wedding dress that encapsulates the stage. James Maloney’s music also fuse the past with the present, with some bouncy pop-folk beats that feature some killer clarinet solos courtesy of Dai Pritchard.
It lands laughs in the right places, and the cast line-dance in the final scene sums up what is a pretty joyous play. There are moments when the production lags; it loses the tempo and risks losing the audience in the process. But on the whole, Terry – who played only some minor roles, and will take on the lead in Hamlet, will be happy with what is a strong start to the year for the Globe.
Photo by Tristram Kenton