As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s most pleasant romantic comedies with fine poetry, colourful characters and an ending that fills the stage with marriages. You wait for the next production to visit the Forest of Arden and meet the city folk that have escaped there and the country folk that live there as if you were seeing old friends.
Shakespeare’s Globe no doubt intended to do that for us but some of the choices made by Artistic Director Michelle Terry and Directors Federay Holmes and Elle While may dampen your enthusiasm and enjoyment of the visit.
They have a dozen actors who are assigned to play some two dozen roles. Judiciously distributed that type of casting need not cause too much concern. But that is not quite what happens in this production.
Two of the main characters in As You Like It are the cousins Rosalind and Celia. Celia’s father, Frederick, deposed his brother Duke Senior (who is also Rosalind’s father) from his position as Duke. The deposed Duke now lives in the Forest of Arden with some colourful companions.
The two cousins disguised as Ganymede and Aliena go to the forest to find them. Rosalind is a girl disguised a young man while Celia remains a girl. For reasons that escape me, the role of Rosalind is given to a man, Jack Laskey, and Celia is played by Nadia Nadarajah who happens to be a deaf mute. Part of the fun of the play is that Rosalind pretending to be man will pretend to be a woman and will be wooed by the handsome Orlando. Does the casting add anything to the production? Yes, it adds a large dose of annoyance, if not worse.
Speaking of worse, Celia has a lot of lines in the play but Nadia Nadarajah cannot speak any of them and must communicate with sign language. I have no idea why they would cast a person who tragically cannot speak in a role that requires speech.
Richard Katz is a mature actor and he is assigned three roles. The ones that concern us are those of Charles the Wrestler and Silvius the shepherd. Perhaps I have a weird image of wrestlers but a middle aged man with no display of muscles does not make the cut. With a gray beard, he is not a convincing wrestler but let’s not make a big deal out of it. But Silvius is a young, dumb and doting shepherd in love with Phoebe (Catrin Aaron). Katz, with his white beard is simply out of place in the role. Why in the world was he cast in it?
Orlando is the young man who falls in love with and woos Rosalind so fervently is, well, a young man. Bettrys Jones who plays Orlando is a woman who is considerably shorter than Jack Laskey. This is plain ridiculous.
Helen Schlesinger, Michelle Terry and Tanika Yearwood get three roles each, all of them of male characters with a question mark about Hymen who is a god. Is there a dire shortage of male actors at Shakespeare’s Globe? Is there a valid reason for casting so many men in women’s roles and vice versa? Is this gender-blindness and age-blindness gone haywire? Are they trying to move the world forward into thinking that gender and age differences are irrelevant or unimportant?
I am not sure at all but in this production of As You Like It, the attempt to convince us of that, if it did not kill the performance, it certainly bruised it and made for some unpleasant watching of a production that promised to be unalloyed joy.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare continues until August 26, 2018 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London. www.shakespearesglobe.comThe Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann