I pray you do not fall in love with me,
For I am falser than vows made in wine.
A heatwave hits summertime London; and perhaps the only refuge is to go to the Globe Theatre, where you are transported into the springtime eaves of the Forest of Arden, or into the frosty winter of rotten Denmark. Having said that, it’s still bloody hot, and I’m ashamed to admit that I spent the second half of the first act of As You Like It conked out in the first aid room, having thrown up after a quick dash out of the theatre. Anywhere else, this could ruin your day, but not at the Globe – thank God.
Making it back in for the second act, As You Like It proved a sweet romantic treat but – ultimately – less imaginative than their thoughtful Hamlet, which I particularly enjoyed.
As You Like It offers us a stellar leading performance by Jack Laskey – seen treading the Globe’s boards as his romantic counterpart Orlando back in 2009 with all the gusto, energy and intelligence he lends to Rosalind here. But, as is the nature of this character – one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s females – Laskey shines, holding the audience in the palm of his hand as he leaps from suggestive allure to bitter anger to clever leader to gentle friend; all the while the motif of blush pink flowers lends her a playful youth. This is a rounded Rosalind, not too cutting, not too sweet, but both simultaneously. Her confidante Celia is given spark by Nadia Nadarajah whose desperate pleas to her father after Rosalind’s banishment are particularly moving.
The piece is given a fun bawdy backdrop by the ensemble: whether it is oversized pink codpieces, characters skipping in their underwear, or the inimitable James Garnon’s hysterical Audrey, making eyes at audience members and endowed with a lazy nonchalance that recalls TOWIE stars. The BSL signers are included to great effect.
As You Like It proves a romantic romp made elegant by Laskey’s clean, emotionally subtle delivery (I have rarely seen the epilogue delivered better) and, indeed, the methods of the Globe ensemble have succeeding in giving an immediacy and a naturalism to these often-spoken phrases. Gone is much of the stilted, formal wordings and in their place are conversations, people, relationships and insecurities. But we are not allowed to rest in familiarity for long, as Hymen – the God of marriage who just happens to appear – floats up into the boughs of the theatre with a flowery mane of skirts billowing out around her, falling to reveal gaudy stockings and shoes.
Riotous songs break the action with – in true Globe fashion – an array of dance moves making up in energy what they lack in finesse. It would be impossible to criticise the Globe for their lack of dance-floor talent, because you just want to get up and dance with them! The joy on the actor’s faces is real and infectious and could only be achieved in this most inclusive of all theatres – it does feel like a party.
It’s rather insane, but infinitely lovable: what Shakespeare does best.
But Michelle Terry’s debut season takes more risks in its Hamlet, in which Terry takes the lead role, and I’m glad, as the last few years has seen a flood of theatres and actors taking on the famous skull-wielding Dane. And this Hamlet, I feel, is the triumph: a perfect mix of old-style Globe joy and imaginative reinterpretation. Save a few sticking points – such as Terry dolled up in full clown garb just to slap the idea of Hamlet’s feigned madness into the faces of every audience member, and Bettrys Jones’ disappointingly tame and forgettable Laertes – the result is a Hamlet that makes an awful lot of sense in a way I have not seen before.
Colin Hurley plays the Ghost less as a sepulchral doom-mongering megaphone and more as what he essentially is – a Dad. Again, this shows the strength of the rehearsal techniques in finding characters that are really true. The BSL signer becomes a counter-Hamlet to Terry, with the question ‘To be or not to be?’ being repeated back at him through sign and words.
Shubham Saraf is particularly good as Ophelia; giving the character a much needed modernity and strength, whilst staying true to the realities written for her, that she is a gentle woman. What is clear in this production is that Ophelia does not choose not to speak, but she is instead silenced. Her corseted pale green, almost white, dress is a physical embodiment of her repression whilst, in her madness, it is replaced with a more modern, looser fitting black gown. Saraf gives her madness a freedom. Rather than plagued by grief and loss, she is liberated, smiling at grief. Her suicide is beautiful, strewn with flowers and couples with snatches of song, as she is freed by it.
This is a trend that continues throughout Hamlet – all the deaths feel like releases, which is different, moving, and very interesting.
I have never seen the Mousetrap done with such panache. What normally proves a sort of exposition-y sequence to confirm Claudius’ guilt, here becomes a sexy, enrapturing play within itself. The speeches are bursts of rambunctious trumpets and low grunts of drums, whilst the dumb show is fluid and enthralling. Laskey plays the villain’s part in a goat-mask, smoking idly, sliding in on his knees like a rock star to claim the widow with a snog. It’s pretty awesome. Similarly, Laskey again shows his talent with his rendition of the Hecuba speech (normally, I admit, missable) proving unexpectedly moving, as he characterises the Player as a struggling actor with more talent than he’s recognised for, marred with self-doubt.
After Emma Rice’s controversial departure, we can all heave a sigh of relief that the Globe is back and kicking with Terry at its helm. I love it. It’s a space like no other, and the experience of watching a play at the Globe is unique. Whatever the criticisms, the audience are loving it, and one cannot help but be drawn along in the magic of it.