Perhaps being at the Globe theatre was originally like this. The action on stage is sensual and exhilarating – so sensual, in fact, that one rather wishes that it was an all-female instead of an all-male cast. Of course, it is something of a conspiracy – we all have to pretend that these flamboyant young men in wigs and corsets are gay, if only out of politeness. The physicality is seemingly uninhibited, but it is actually a rich, intricate appearance. Everything is choreographed down to the last meticulous detail and this frequently succeeds in luring you away from the writing. If Rosalind had liberated herself from the demands of courtly love by donning a disguise, these men have upended her masculinity. The stubble and thick muscles are real, but everything shrill and outrageous and feminine is a costume.
It looks like a production by Action to the Word, who last year delivered an all-male “Titus Andronicus” cut from the same cloth to the same venue, C on Chambers Street. Yet it transpires that this “As You Like It” is the work of Cambridge University ADC, who were responsible for last year’s “The Curse of Macbeth.” Tychy deemed this Macbeth to be lightweight, grumbling that the tyrant was too “pretty” and that the slick special effects “would be only worth the candle if they had got the Bard right first.” Yet “As You Like It” struts as a prize heavyweight because the play’s flight into the forest is in this instance a return to Shakespeare. The play strips itself of its production and almost all of the music and choreography are left behind in Paris.
When Jacques (Amrou Al-Kadhi) finally appears – with melancholy eyes and his mouth going down at the corners – it is as if the Bard himself has banged a gavel to restore order. I have never understood nor wanted to understand the Comedies. Life itself is tragic – the most convincing comic character in Shakespeare’s world is Iago, whilst his most tragic hero is Caliban. The happy ending that waits for Rosalind and Orlando is like a decoration on a cake – trivial, artificial, and unnecessary.
“…where is this young gallant that is so desirous to lie with his mother… earth?” CUADC successfully draw attention to the jokes in As You Like It, making the comedy seem smooth and natural. Yet some of the most memorable lines in this play are found in the sylvan shade. Men are April when they woo; December when they wed. The Lover’s furnace sighs will be worth nothing once he is on the road to second childishness and mere oblivion.
Julian Mack’s Orlando and Tom Russel’s Rosalind are perhaps a little too sincere to be true lovebirds. As Celia, Hugh Wyld is the member of the cast who looks most like a woman. Mateo Oxley is utterly magnificent as the pouting Phebe from Barcelona, although one notes in passing that this is the same fabulous racism that produced Andrew Sachs’ waiter Manuel.
Edward Eustace’s Touchstone is initially less successful – a mysteriously cantankerous pirate – although things brighten up once he has swept Audrey (Charlie Merriman) off his feet. They end up looking like Punch and Judy in love. The cast are wily enough to conjure endless characters out of a limited stock of costumes; although Shakespeare was simply taking the piss by setting his dramatic lion scene entirely offstage and it is a poor show that the lion is likewise nowhere to be seen in this production.