As You Like It (Shakespeare’s Globe)

Blanche McIntyre’s “joyous revival of Shakespeare’s most elegant comedy” has opened at the Bankside venue

Simon Harrison and Michelle Terry
Simon Harrison and Michelle Terry
© Simon Kane

Blanche McIntyre‘s joyous revival of As You Like It could be sub-titled Four Weddings and a Funeral as the play now begins with the sombre Elizabethan burial – drums, flutes, banners and handfuls of thrown earth – of Sir Roland de Bois.

At the end, of course, in Shakespeare’s most elegant comedy, his most talkative and attractive heroine, Rosalind, calls four couples into a circle and blesses them with the goddess Hymen, here played by the bloke in a beard and laurel wreath (Gary Shelford) who was Charles the wrestler.

Sir Roland’s sons are at odds and his servant, Adam (a snowy-bearded Phil Whitchurch), follows the action from the court to the Forest of Arden to see how the old values may be renewed.

And as the younger son, Orlando (Simon Harrison), is gradually seduced by Ganymede, Jove’s son and a mythical catamite, so the debate between town and country, manners and sincerity, swaggerers and swains, shakes out in the most beautiful of encounters and verbal challenges.

When done as well as this, the play is breath-taking, and especially so with Michelle Terry‘s long anticipated Rosalind/Ganymede; she proves a quirky, resourceful, impulsive crowd-pleaser from the moment she reacts to the sight of Orlando’s six-pack with a mighty "phwoar."

She and Ellie Piercy‘s delightful Celia, inseparable as Juno’s swans, go about their banishment with more aggression than hey-nonny-no, though there’s plenty of fine music and capering in a place where the banished Duke Frederick – David Beames is much happier as this accommodating cove than as his nasty rough-tongued twin, Duke Senior – concludes that "sweet are the uses of adversity," Shakespeare’s banishment corollary to making a virtue of necessity in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Terry’s Ganymede is not the sexually beguiling androgyne of Naomi Frederick in brown leathers in the last Globe As You, but a tousled, irresistible boy who discovers the truth about herself as Rosalind by subverting the clichés ("I am a woman: when I think I must speak!") with comedy and a sort of experimental emotionalism.

This spirit infuses the entire play – except for the bits occupied by James Garnon‘s masterly sourpuss of a Jaques, who slides conversationally into "All the world’s a stage" and renews the speech with witty highlights and a touch of the Brian Blesseds. Garnon has been one of the Globe’s great discoveries, the sort the RSC used to make, and his run of roles here includes none finer than this Roy Orbison-quiffed and leather-jerkined melancholy merchant, skimming over the play like a horse fly on the lake.

There is an outstanding Touchstone from Daniel Crossley, who actually succeeds in making the joke-infested clown funny, through speed of delivery and an Eric Morecambe cutting edge. The rustics are good news, too, especially Gwyneth Keyworth‘s blank and vulnerable Phebe and Sophia Nomvete‘s earth-larding, lubricious Audrey. In all, as Celia says on arriving in Arden, "I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it."

As You Like It It runs at Shakespeare's Globe until 5 September. For more information and to book tickets, click here.