The Globe. Nothing major. Just a little piece of national heritage. A symbol of our historical culture, too proud for a space on the Monopoly board, but on the tourist map the world over. Nestled in the heart of the city, loomed over by towers of glass and metallic bridges, passed by suits and camera lenses. It’s magnified by the modernity surrounding it, but once you’re in there it feels a little bit like you’ve gone back in time (apart from the burgers and the Pimms, but who would lose those?) It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you go, you never adjust to it, and I spend many a silent minute taking it all in. The Globe is impressive enough in its own silence. Thriving on history and all the bare minimums that go along with it, we sit on planks of wood, leaning over planks wood, without any planks of wood to lean back on.
Blanche McIntyre’s version of As You Like It is as bare as it gets. Part of the joy of the theatre is that you pretty much get what you’re given. There’s no stately scenery or fancy lighting – it’s pretty much as authentic as it gets. The main source of lighting comes as the sun sets, and it’s reassuring to know that this stands, incredibly powerfully, as good, solid entertainment. The audience is more varied than any audience I ever see; people from all over the world, all ages, all statuses. I can see all of their reactions as they are enraptured, to-ing and fro-ing between characters like Wimbledon, except with more laughter. I can see who claps first and where it goes next. The audience becomes a part of the show.
The narrative that McIntyre has to play with is as bare as Shakespeare can be. Two youths wronged by circumstance meet and fall in love instantaneously: Rosalind (Michelle Terry), the daughter of an unjustly exiled Duke, and Orlando (Simon Harrison), disliked by his older brother Oliver (William Mannering) and disconnected from their inherited wealth. Rosalind is banished by her Duke of an Uncle, fleeing to the forest of Arden, disguised as a boy (of course) with her cousin Celia (Ellie Piercy). She re-finds Orlando, now also a runaway, as well as her estranged father. As the lines of love get all in a tangle amongst gender changes and life on the run, all ends happily in a group wedding. There never seems to be any indication that it won’t end satisfactorily in this production – it’s all sweetness and light and that’s the simplicity of it.
McIntyre’s As You Like It is traditional in that bareness. There is absolutely nothing in the way of over-gilding the characters, and the cleanliness of entertainment. Terry is a one-woman storm, naturally and wittily whirling through the lines naturally and hilariously, charismatically flitting from trait to trait with seamless momentum. Terry’s boisterousness and feminism is set against the melancholic humour of Jacques (James Garnon), whose pompous and deliberately controlled delivery is impeccably timed and still colloquial. “All the world’s a stage…” has got to be a tough one to say newly, like it’s never been said or heard before, and Garnon sniggers it out conversationally as if it just popped into his head at that moment.
Amid the traditional, McIntyre throws in some modern touches, the most successful being the music: acoustic folk devised by Johnny Flynn that feels authentic, but also a pair of wayfarers and a drag-along shopping trolley, for example. However, there aren’t enough of them to make a statement or a theme, so they seem a little random and jarring, taking away some of the merit of being a traditional production.
I got to thinking about how striking the traditional can be in all its glory. How the traditional can open eyes wide and set up camp in your thoughts for weeks on end. For example, Mark Rylance’s traditionally all-male Twelfth Night in which, playing Olivia, he showed what people mean when they say “masterclass”; equally, a stirring Titus Andronicus that caused audience members to faint out of repulsion – both productions being at the Globe. The traditional is plenty good enough to make people who have struggled to understand Shakespeare for years on end, after analysing every last syllable, understand and love it in the space of three hours. It struck me that As You Like It isn’t quite enough, for how I like it.
As You Like It is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 5 September. For more information and tickets, see the Shakespeare’s Globe website. Photo by Simon Kane.