Warring brothers, gender politics, amorous intentions, cross-dressing and mistaken identity inevitably overflow from the ducal court into the suggestively lawless wilds of the Forest of Arden. Fiendishly usurped by his younger brother, Duke Senior is forced to take refuge in the forest with his loyal lords, and is there followed, variously, by his daughter Rosalind disguised as the youth Ganymede, her cousin and inseparable friend Celia, the new duke’s daughter, and Orlando, a young courtier who has fallen simultaneously foul of the duke, and in love with Rosalind. The Globe Theatre’s production of As You Like It is delightful, diverting and undemanding; fizzing with wit, by turns lightly serious and charmingly silly.
Under Blanche McIntyre’s direction, this cheerful mix of melodramatic romp and humorous meditation is tightly comic. The excellent cast come together to give the text pace and coherence, and if it lacks weight, that hardly seems to matter. Jokes will be cracked, villains will reform, reconciliation will be achieved with a crowbar, everyone will end up tidily married, and you will be entertained.
The friendship between Rosalind (Michelle Terry) and Celia (Ellie Piercy) is beautifully drawn, and they gambol about the stage like giddy twelve-year-olds at a sleepover. Terry’s hearty but vulnerable Rosalind is earthy and hilarious, while the accomplished Piercy, often a passive observer on stage, shows a mingled horror and excitement at her cousin’s audacity which provides much entertainment. Jaques, perhaps the most interesting character in the play, is pretty much incidental to the plot – but James Garnon’s smooth, wry delivery makes him seem an essential part of the action.
The staging is simple, props are kept to a minimum and costumes – to my untrained eye – are Tudor. It’s certainly part of the Globe’s raison d’être to provide something close to the theatre atmosphere of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, but the creation of an ‘authentic’ Shakespearean experience is given less importance than making this production thoroughly audience-friendly. The humour feels very contemporary, with Rosalind’s love for Orlando rooted firmly in the physical and with several characters delivering key lines with heavy irony. The folksy music is easy on the modern ear, and plenty of action and visual gags help to move everything along.
Certainly this production is tourist-friendly, but it’s none the less delicious for that. Clever and funny, with a cast bouncing with energy and an atmospheric chill as the sky darkens overhead, this is a grand evening’s entertainment.