Shakespeare’s delightful rural comedy is punctuated by an array of coincidences and plot contrivances that modern audiences often find risible. It’s easy enough to explain them away by referring to the magical properties of the Forest of Arden but Thea Sharrock, in her Globe directing debut, delivers a production of such exuberance that these are forgotten, while adding a few twists of her own.
For example, by making Orlando's wound an imaginary one – devised as a trick to bring Ganymede to him - his remarkable recovery can be more easily explained. Sharrock even produces an explanation as to why Oliver is so quick to recant his past life when she shows him being tortured by Brendan Hughes’ particularly brutal Duke Frederick.
Sharrock has unearthed a fine Rosalind in Naomi Frederick. Looking rather more at ease in male disguise than in her female garb, she relishes her role as Ganymede, Orlando’s muse. What’s gratifying though is that Laura Rogers’ Celia is her equal – too many Celias seem to be content to play second fiddle; not this one. One understands how they are ready to risk all by running away together.
The Globe is a perfect venue for this play; the wooden pillars serve as the trees, when Jacques talks of summoning fools into a circle, he looks about him, at the audience arrayed in rows around him and relishes the comedy.
If it sounds like a pantomime, it's not a comparison that Sharrock is eager to dispel. Touchstone chases a goat up and down stage and gets the audience joining in. Dominc Rowan's Touchstone is that rare beast – a genuinely funny Shakespearean fool. With his stand-up comic’s patter and some lively dance moves, he plays up to the audience superbly. Tim McMullan's rich-voiced (to my mind reminiscent of Vincent Price) Jacques is suitably melancholic – an excellent counterpoint to Touchstone.
The weak point in the production is Jack Laskey's rather lacklustre Orlando. Laskey doesn't really seem to get to grips with the verse and never really convinces as someone who’s the equal of this Rosalind – one certainly knows who would wear the trousers in that marriage.
There's no spare fat on this production; the scalpel's been taken to several scenes and characters to speed up events and the audience is gripped from the beginning. Sharrock has glossed over some of the sexual ambiguities and class contrasts that modern productions have dwelled on but has a delivered a real crowd pleaser.