FringeReview UK 2023
It’s the trio of cousins and lover who ensure this production enjoys its fathoms-deep in love. An As You Like It with an inviting new prologue by Travis Alabanza, underscoring the forest’s healing as well as magical inversions; but shorn of its Epilogue. When you see how that Epilogue’s so rich in queerness and transgression it seems an own goal to the fluffier part of this production’s vibes. Sometimes we try too hard, and here, musical and other disruptions break up an already super-relaxed plot. As a last-minute heatwave, its holiday humour, though, is hard to beat.
Musicians: Composer Michael Henry, Musicians Rosie Bergonzi (Percussion), Sophie Crawford (Accordion), Michael Henry (Musical Director, Descant Recorder, Field Drum), Rio Kai (Double Bass), Shirley Tettah (Guitar)
Director Ellen McDougall, Set Design, Seasonal Installation and Design, and Production Manager Willis, Deputy Head of Production Fay Powell-Thomas, Dramaturgical Consultant Char Boden, Text Dramaturg Madeline Sayet, Extra Dialogue/Prologue, Travis Alabanza
Costume Designer Max Johns, Associate Costume Designer Maariyah Sharjil, Costume Painter Nicola Killeen Textiles, Associate Director Indiana Lown-Collins, Movement Director Bambi Jordan Philips, Fight Director Kev McCurdy, Intimacy Director Tommy Ross-Williams, IBSL Consultant Emily Howlett, IBSL Performance Interpreters Ali Gordan, William Grint
Shakespeare Consultants Farah Karim-Cooper, Will Tosh
Costume Supervisor Jackie Orton, Globe Associate – Movement Glynn MacDonald, Head of Voice Tess Dignan
Head of Stage Bryan Paterson, Head of Wardrobe Emma Lucy-Hughes, Head of Company Management Marion Marrs, Head of Props Emma Hughes, Stage Manager Rebecca Austin, DCM Kirsty Bloxham, DSM Devika Ramcharan, ASM Peter Carrington, Casting Becky Paris. Producer Tamara Moore.
Till October 29th
In a year that saw a glorious realisation of the queerness of John Lyly’s 1583 Galatea (one of whose actors is in this cast) it’s exhilarating to see that spirit return to its natural home at the Globe, and explored so consummately in As You Like It directed by Ellen McDougall.
Admittedly it’s an As You Like It with an inviting new prologue by Travis Alabanza, underscoring the forest’s healing as well as magical inversions; but shorn of its Epilogue. When you see how that Epilogue’s so rich in queerness and transgression it seems an own goal to the fluffier part of this production’s vibes.
But there’s serious things here too, beyond the excellent framing of Wills’s unfussy court set and Max Johns’ beautiful period white/grey costumes, which in Rosalind’s case is ingeniously worn back-to-front as Ganymede, continually slipping leggings.
Principally it’s the trio of cousins and lover who ensure this production enjoys its fathoms-deep in love. And that’s because they inhabit Shakespeare’s words, rough-hew them how the production will (sometimes well).
The Rosalind of Nina Bowers, exuberantly making love to the world and turning in a flash from exalting to flirt to sheer faint is exquisite; and if the production had let her, could have broken our hearts further towards the end. Vocally clear, making complete sense of her role, Bowers’ class command is absolute, whether requiring Orlando in the holiday humour of wooing or chiding split minutes; or Phoebe – Jessica Alade, excellent, stamping clarity and agency on a slighted role; where Silvius (Mika Onyx Johnson) exudes winning pathos.
The Orlando of Isabel Adomakoh Young almost convinces you this Orlando is worthy of Rosalind. Kev McCurdy’s fight direction has placed them and Alade (as Charles the Wrestler here) in a ring amongst groundlings, not always easy to see, but it’s a defining moment. Bowers’ Rosalind and Celia (Macy-Jacob Seelochan) look down and totter. But they’re also stooping or “overthrowing” to conquer someone of a class down from them.
Adomakoh Young occasionally resorts to Alabanza’s language and ad-libbing in an appeal to the audience for help in hapless rhymes (a delicious crowd-pleaser, as is snatching a straw hat). Seelochan her “little coz” (who played in that Galatea) makes something scorned of that phrase, and their repeats, pauses, and under-scorings round Rosalind leave us in little doubt of their devotion – shrouded through chiding.
There’d be a touch of tragedy in that, were not much more made of Oliver’s conversion in Jessica Murrain’s morphing of the lithe, vicious brother, and courtship of Celia; which works believably here, in one of the pauses in this giddy production that lodge in the mind.
There’s weight too in the Orlando/Adam relationship, and as Stephanie Jacob’s affecting Adam is brought fainting on by their master, it’s just at the end of Jacques’ speech, “sans everything” a touching, even revelatory conjunction, where one of composer Michael Henry’s arrangements “Let My Heart Rise” features as a gentle dirge; as Adam quite clearly passes from the world by walking off, re-emerging as an assured Corin, able to tackle Touchstone.
It’s Henry’s most successful moment: pop and indie pieces – with percussion, guitar, accordion, recorder, field drum, double-bass – are beguiling, as they strip out the play’s original lyrics. Musically there’s several hits here, but they increasingly punctuate an already fragile plot, which this production fragments further, as energy leaks away.
This moment adds weight to Alex Austin’s Jacques too, brightly cast against type, both active and engaging as a barrow-boy, though one never believes he could possibly be melancholic or convert to the contemplative life. Jacques’ valedictory wisdom to the lovers goes too, giving Austin less to play with.
Tessa Parr’s Touchstone is mercurial in cap and bells, though shorn of a bit more than the usual seven-degrees and lie circumstantial/direct cut. Where we get it, Parr’s infectious quicksilver is of a piece, though we lose the (slightly obscure) festal/Shrove joke on pancakes and mustard, as Parr attempts it relatively upstage. Hanna Ringham’s Audrey though is an absolute match, clear, funny: “I am not a slut… I thank the gods I am foul” with wild gestures.
Whereas Dale Rapley’s Duke Frederick is a scourge of ringing command and threat, (he morphs to the third brother at the end, as well as Audrey’s hapless William, more mute than terrified) Tonderai Munyevu’s gentle Duke Senior exudes the sermons in stones, though sometimes his voice is just too gentle to carry them. Emmanuel Akwafo’s alert and quick-acting Amiens morphs easily into Duke Senior’s court with a touch of authority, as does Guy Woolf in his various ensemble parts.
The generosity and invitation of this production is both celebratory and limiting. It sends out waves of inclusivity (rosemary and lavender is offered, though I missed it!) in a world sorely needing it, from the Arden where city and capital life in all forms is gently undermined.
It limits Shakespeare’s richness though, in textual decisions that crimp, sometimes cramp expressivity. Thus Rosalind’s “and I for no woman” gets shorn of the last word in a trope suggesting Rosalind tears up each time she says it. It doesn’t quite make sense after the first time, sheers off the word-wheeling the quartet throw at each other.
And ending in a reach-me-down Globe-fest could surely have come after Rosalind’s speech, which transgresses more than any Shakespeare finale. It’s his most 21st century ending, more modern than what we get. The strongest acting here makes new-minted sense and the feeling’s always the same. Get that across and all inclusivity comes with it. Sometimes we try too hard, and here, musical and other disruptions break up an already super-relaxed plot. As a last-minute heatwave, its holiday humour, though, is hard to beat.