As You Like It

The Globe Theatre’s revival of the 2009 production of As You Like It was, as ever, a spirited affair on the banks of the Thames. A perpetual audience-favourite, the play itself never quite reaches the poetic majesty of some of Shakespeare’s more comprehensive works but nevertheless does not fail to entertain. Where the previous incarnation of the play had featured a full cast, this travelling show comprised only eight actors with each bearing a number of roles. Where this can often lead to confusion, James Dacre’s production was clear throughout with the audience fully aware of the identities of those on stage even if the other characters were not.

In spite of the lively performance, in which Will Mannering and Deirdre Mullins excelled, the cast never seemed to own the stage. The touring nature of the show has perhaps contributed to this, with a large wooden container – presumably taken from show to show – serving as the only real stage addition. This did allow for quick transitions as Shakespeare’s script jumped from Duke Frederick’s Court to the Forest of Arden, as well providing comedic leveling, with characters both poking their head out of the top as well as scrambling across its surface; however, it nevertheless made the cast seem less like homeowners and more like squatters within this wonderful theatre. The huge structural imposition, as well as the removal of the usual thrust stage, contributed towards an almost claustrophobic atmosphere, which failed to capture the Arcadian existence that the Forest of Arden is supposed to represent.

It is perhaps unfair of me to compare this interpretation with the one that preceded it, but certain key differences became insurmountable. The nature of the eight-person cast and the doubling of roles meant that a certain amount of gender swapping was always likely to occur. In a relatively post-gender society and in a genre of theatre that, for historical reasons, exploits this constantly, I have come not only to accept but to expect this from the Globe’s productions. Indeed, my personal belief on the subject stretches to the point where the performance given is more important than the gender of the actor performing. And so, I was both alarmed and disappointed to find that Dacre had chosen to rewrite the role of Jaques in order to facilitate a female actor.

Where John O’Mahony was expected to perform the female role of Audrey, the same faith was not placed in Emma Pallant who was made to play a substantially reworked ‘Madam Jaques’. I am certainly no Harold Bloom when it comes to Bardolatry, but it seems a remarkable decision by Dacre to actually rewrite passages of Shakespeare to fit his vision. Surely the script must be placed above the pen of the director; indeed, direction is a process of interpretation not creation. I can understand that the constrains of the cast caused this decision to be made, but it seems dissatisfactory that a female actor is not given the same opportunity to play a male character when the opposite is so often accepted – even within this production.

Aside from this discrepancy and the directorial license, the decision to rewrite the character simply didn’t work. The subtly implied bi-sexuality of Shakespeare’s male Jaques was flattened out and replaced with an increasingly tedious cynic whose libertinage appeared more affected than assimilated. This is no fault of Pallant, who played the part with aplomb, but a failing on Dacre’s reimagining. After Tim McMullan’s perfectly wrought Jaques in Sharrock’s 2009 Globe production, in which both the melancholy and the comedy of the character were subtly interchanged throughout, the peculiarity of Dacre’s decision ultimately detracted from Pallant’s performance.

And yet, to focus on the minor negative aspects of the production does not do it justice; the energy of the performance and the Brechtian interplay kept the audience entertained throughout. And whilst I have reservations about the reworking, Pallant delivered the “seven ages of man” speech with an interesting mixture of melancholy and regret that summoned to mind a jilted lover railing against mankind. The play itself remains one of Shakespeare’s most accessible works and the light-heartedness of this production is a perfect introduction to those wishing to enter into the world of Elizabethan drama.

W. J. Humphries

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