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Globe to Globe Blog: Jo Caird on As You Like It & Love's Labour's Lost

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After the nationalist (if not necessarily dramatic) joys of Cymbeline, more than a week passed before I was next at the Globe. A week is a long time in Globe to Globe land, but by now accustomed to watching Shakespeare in another language, it didn't take me long to settle in for what turned out to be the first truly theatrically ambitious show of my G2G experience: As You Like It in Georgian.

Tbilisi-based Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre performed Shakespeare's sylvan, gender-bending romcom as a play within a play. As the story of Rosalind and Orlando's respective banishments, their falling in love and the couple's subsequent antics in the woods was told, the company faffed, canoodled and gossiped among themselves 'offstage'.

Creating this added distance between the audience and the action was a risky move but it ultimately paid off: the non-verbal business that went on offstage may have at times distracted from the goings-on of the plot, but it also offered non-Georgian speakers an additional route into the production. In a subtle, yet tremendously well executed piece of staging from director Levan Tsuladze, the main action gradually took over more and more of the entire Globe playing space as the play progressed, until the 'offstage' actors were barely involved in proceedings. Just as the audience became lost in the play, so the players became lost in their characters.

While the cast brought real joy to some of the play's comic scenes, there were moments when a subtler approach would have been more effective. Nata Murvanidze gave a rich and powerful performance as Jacques (the cross-dressing adding another level to the play's exploration of sex and gender politics), but her “all the world's a stage” speech was undermined by the comedy played at Jacques's expense directly before it began.

The production was full of beautiful visual moments that had audience members reaching for their cameras – only to be told off quick as a flash by the Globe's hawk-eyed stewards. The meta-theatrical setting, with its broadly 19th-century design, made more of the space than other Globe to Globe shows I've seen. Some companies in this festival have given the impression that they're just borrowing the stage for a while; Marjanishvili felt like they belonged here.

Striking the right balance between comedy and drama was also a challenge for Deafinitely Theatre, who presented Love's Labour's Lost in British Sign Language (the first ever professional BSL production of a Shakespeare play and a real coup for deaf-led theatre). 

The King of Navarre and his noblemen swear that they will give up the company of women for three years in order to focus their attentions on study; shortly thereafter the Princess of France and her ladies arrive at court demanding to be entertained; cue lots of falling in love and confusion over misaddressed missives. 

It is a fun and silly play – a production of Love's Labour's Lost that took itself too seriously would be a hideous thing to behold – and there was much to enjoy in the silliness of director Paula Garfield's handling of the piece. But such was the emphasis given to the bawdy, slapstick elements of the drama that there was little room left for real character development or any proper exploration of the human condition.

A few moments of sublety did make it through. David Sands was a wise and conflicted Lord Longaville and Adam Bassett's precise, understated characterisation made the Don Armado subplot a pleasure to watch. Stephen Collins, who brought such energy to the role of Colin in Graeae Theatre's Ian Dury & the Blockheads musical, Reasons to be Cheerful, gave a solid, if unexceptional, performance as the King of Navarre; but the point at the end of the play when he begged the Princess (a sassy Nadia Nadarahaj) not to return to France following the death of her father was beautifully played.

BSL undoubtedly lends itself well to physical comedy, but the production would have been far richer had Garfield trusted and challenged the audience with more quiet, emotionally replete moments like this one.


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