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As You Like It

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

There is no better place to watch one of Shakespeare’s comedies than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. Entering the Globe Theatre feels like stepping 400 years back in time. Authentically reconstructed, based on the original 16th century structure, the Globe is an open air theatre, exposed to the elements, pigeons, helicopters and aeroplanes. Naturally lit, the Globe allows its actors to build a rapport with the audience, which is unique to this venue, and works astonishingly well when staging Shakespeare’s comedies. Running alongside Hamlet in Michelle Terry’s debut summer season as Artistic Director, As You Like It sees the same Globe Ensemble cast tackle one of the Bard’s greatest romantic comedies. In a play that already has its characters swapping genders, Michelle Terry’s inclusive, gender-blind casting works to superb comic effect and results in a thoroughly entertaining production.

“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”

Some may feel that it is controversial to cast a male actor as Rosalind. She is an iconic role and is given more lines than any of Shakespeare’s other female characters. However, Jack Laskey plays the role so well, it is hard to argue against his casting. Having already played Orlando in the Globe’s 2009 production, Laskey is a wonderful Rosalind. His chemistry between the other characters, particularly Celia, is infectious and delightful. He is believably lovestruck with Bettrys Jones’ Orlando and stays effeminate, even when cross-dressing as Ganymede. It is a casting choice that harks back to the tradition of men playing female roles in early-modern theatre. To counter this, Bettrys Jones plays Orlando. I initially had doubts about Jones’ casting as Orlando, but I was quickly converted. It is a stroke of genius. Seeing such a small actress playing the ‘muscular’ Orlando, wrestling in the play’s opening scene, was absolutely hilarious. Jones’ small stature is constantly exploited to provide some truly funny moments in the play. Jones and Laskey make a delightfully heart warming Orlando and Rosalind. Their relationship is believable, endearing, and a complete joy to watch.

However, it is deaf actress, Nadia Nadarajah who steals the show as Celia. Nadarajah, who also plays Guildenstern in Hamlet, combines British Sign Language with invented signs representing Shakespeare’s archaic language, such as ‘Forest of Arden’, ‘knave’ and ‘Orlando’. Converting Shakespeare into sign language must have been a challenging task, considering the complexities and rhythms of iambic pentameter. It is a testament to the intensive rehearsal schedule that the sign language used in As You Like It felt natural and could be understood. It was truly refreshing to witness BSL being  incorporated into a play and I hope that it encourages more diversity and inclusivity within the arts, with disabilities being represented better. Nadarajah proves that there are no boundaries to making Shakespeare work on stage. Her Celia is perfectly enchanting. She has an irresistible chemistry with Jack Laskey’s Rosalind, solidifying their friendship into a ‘sisterly’ love. This was enhanced by their constant communication and interaction with each other when other characters were speaking. Nadarajah’s mannerisms are wonderfully expressive, particularly as her character gets more exasperated with Ganymede’s outlandish scheming. Her astonished reaction to being asked to ‘marry’ Ganymede and Orlando is hilarious. I loved very minute that Nadia Nadarajah was on stage in both Hamlet and As You Like It. I hope she returns to the Globe in more productions!

Globe veterans Pearce Quigley, Colin Hurley and James Garnon increase the comedy tenfold. Pearce Quigley’s melancholic Jacques is highly entertaining and shows his vast experience at the Globe by interacting with the audience during his monologues. Skulking in the shadows of the stage and dressed in a black velvet suit, he is the perfect choice to play Jacques. Quigley delivers the play’s most famous line; “All the world’s a stage” whilst munching a banana and playfully picks out a schoolboy in the audience for his Seven Ages of Man speech. Quigley is a natural, comedic performer, and his Jacques is a wonderfully playful interpretation of Shakespeare’s mournful character. Colin Hurley’s Touchstone, the fool, is equally amusing, particularly in his bizarre relationship with James Garnon’s superbly sluttish Audrey. Their scenes were incredibly funny, and were some of my favourites in the play.

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players”

As You Like It has more songs than any other Shakespeare play and the majority of them were sung beautifully by Tanika Yearwood. The rest were vibrantly performed alongside dances by the ensemble. The usually outdated “hey nonny no” song, hilariously performed as suggestive, romantic ballad between Touchstone and Audrey, had me in stitches. All the songs are authentic instruments, by the Globe’s fantastic musicians, who make the experience of watching a play in this theatre even more magical. Every play ends with a jig, as they did 400 years ago, and As You Like It had the best choreographed, most ecstatic, joyful jig I have seen at the Globe. The audience had a fantastic time and clapped along with the music. The joy that these jigs bring is infectious and it is hard to leave the Globe without a smile on your face.

It is true that most of the comedy in As You Like It is slapstick, but it is a thoroughly charming and incredibly funny production. I felt that this was a better, more accomplished play than Hamlet. But like Hamlet, it is a delight to see a play so embracive and inclusive to gender, ethnicity and disability. I hope these plays pave the way for more diversity, and that other productions follow the Globe’s Ensemble’s example. If these plays provide a glimpse of the Globe ‘s new direction under Michelle Terry, then I applaud it, and highly anticipate what will follow!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

Photo credits = Tristram Kenton

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2018 in Theatre

 

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Othello

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

William Shakespeare’s popular revenge tragedy, Othello, forms part of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s summer season. This year, Michelle Terry takes over the reins as the new Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, after Emma Rice’s unfortunate departure. Terry’s debut season is packed with Shakespeare’s most popular plays and also sees Claire Van Kampen return to direct Othello. Van Kampen has an illustrious history with the Globe theatre as the Director of Music, having composed music for over 50 productions. In addition to directing several productions, she also wrote the critically acclaimed Farinelli and the King for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, before its transfer to the West End and Broadway. Othello also has Van Kampen making another welcome collaboration with her husband, Mark Rylance, to bring a unique perspective to a much performed play. This collaborative experience speaks volumes in Othello as Rylance steps forward to play Shakespeare’s most despised villain, Iago.

The casting of Mark Rylance as Iago is a masterstroke. Rylance’s Iago is a unique blend of understated subtlety. Mark Rylance is a naturally likeable, genuinely nice person with a softly spoken voice. He is irresistibly charming and constructs his character to be the epitome of “honest Iago”. Rylance’s charm equally captivates the audience, in addition to the characters on stage. During his soliloquies, he teases the audience, building a rapport that subconsciously hoodwinks them into becoming entirely complicit in his plot. The audience are pawns in his game, just as Othello is. Rylance’s Iago remains charming, likeable, funny and endearing throughout the majority of the play. He rattles through his dialogue to make it appear that he is acting off the cuff, rather than having any true malevolent motive. Rylance makes jokes, plays the mandolin, naturally repeats and stumbles over his words, and has instinctive mannerisms, such as wiping his moustache with his handkerchief. He appears on the surface a genuinely human, caring character. When presenting Othello with ‘suspicions’ that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, Rylance’s Iago honestly looks upset to be the bearer of bad news. When Othello doubts him, Iago appears to be genuinely offended that his friend would doubt his integrity.

When Iago’s façade is thrown aside during the play’s climax, and his actions have gone too far for justification; it is a complete shock to the audience to see Iago’s true colours. As he brutally breaks Roderigo’s neck, Iago’s physical strength and hidden malice are revealed, causing the audience to literally gasp with shock. This results in the audience feeling betrayed and complicit in Iago’s actions. You feel like you have been fooled and played, like Othello. The audience feel responsible for everything that is happening, and helpless to stop it. Knowing that we were also bewitched by Iago’s charm makes the audience feel true empathy for Othello. Full credit needs to be given to Rylance for this accomplished performance as he makes Iago’s character even more puzzling. His motives are more ambiguous than they have ever been, and the audience, like Othello, are left “Perplexed in the extreme” and bewildered as to why Iago committed these horrendous deeds. Mark Rylance presents an exquisitely multi-layered, subtle, and unique approach to playing Iago.

“And what’s he then that says I play the villain,

When this advice is free I give, and honest”

Likewise, American actor André Holland gives an outstanding performance as Othello. Casting an American as the ill-fated Moor may be controversial to some, but Holland speaks Shakespeare’s language beautifully and is the best Othello that I have seen. His passionate devotion to Jessica Warbeck’s Desdemona early in the play is infectious. Holland and Warbeck perfectly render their characters’ innocent adoration of each other. It is a relationship that is so natural, it feels like first love. There is no wonder that Iago’s poisonous accusations have such an effect on Othello. It is easy to see how the smallest doubt would have such a huge effect on somebody so utterly besotted. Holland’s slip into jealousy and torment is similarly believable and is truly heart-breaking to watch. I have seen many productions of Othello and each time I think Othello is an idiot for being so easily fooled. Holland made me understand Othello’s character and feel a deep sympathy for Othello that I have never experienced before. His mortification of being led into jealousy and of killing Desdemona was truly tragic. The fact that he managed to present Othello as a genuinely tragic figure, with multiple helicopters flying overhead during his death scene, deserves the highest praise.

You can’t discuss Othello without discussing the important issues that Shakespeare’s play raises with regards to race. These debates are centuries old, yet feel outdated in the multicultural world we now live in. Van Kampen’s production masterfully sidelines these debates by creating the most diverse casting of Othello that I have seen and proving that Othello isn’t the only Shakespearean character a black actor can play. With Sheila Atim playing Emilia and Aaron Pierre playing Cassio, it is refreshing to see a production of Othello where Othello isn’t the only black character. This completely removes the 400 year old notion that Iago’s main motive is racism. Iago’s soliloquies were also carefully edited to remove a lot of the racist language, as was Emilia’s tirade against Othello; “the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!”. It is Othello’s American accent, rather than his skin colour that marks him out as a ‘foreigner’. In addition to further blurring Iago’s motives, it gives the production a modern feel, despite its authentic setting. Instead of raising issues of race, Van Kampen’s production shines a spotlight as to how talented the actors are. Sheila Atim is a tour-de-force as a bold, resolute Emilia, who completely dominates the final scene. Aaron Pierre gives a blistering stage debut as Cassio who is naturally appealing, rather than being portrayed as a flirtatious ladies’ man.

As I mentioned in my review of Hamlet, the Globe Theatre is a spectacular theatre. Being an authentic reproduction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre, it has a magical quality about it. There is nowhere better in the world to watch Shakespeare. As usual, the music at the Globe is wonderful, played on authentic instruments. I am glad to see that Van Kampen removed the usually awkward “cannikin clink, clink” song and replaced it with a joyous, salsa-esque dance. The entire cast looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Desdemona’s mournful Willow Song was also harmoniously sung by both Sheila Atim and Jessica Warbeck, cementing Emilia and Desdemona’s love and friendship. The costumes were also magnificent, even with Mark Rylance resembling Mario in his red cap. Othello’s richly embroidered jacket was gorgeous, and the dresses of Desdemona and Emilia were stunning, particularly the striking gold dress she wears.

This is a wonderfully unique production of Othello that has drawn the crowds because of Mark Rylance’s appearance as Iago. Rylance will doubtlessly split the crowds too, with his likeable, charming, “Honest Iago”.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Photo Credits = Simon Annand

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2018 in Theatre

 

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