As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe, London

A feelgood night in the forest

Alice Jones
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:09

All the world's not so much a stage as a boxing ring in Thea Sharrock's boisterous, rambunctious new production of As You Like It. The chalk circle which is drawn on the ground for Orlando's bout with the court's prize wrestler Charles in the early scenes remains centre stage throughout, the arena for all manner of dexterous verbal jousting, romantic sparring and marital ducking and diving. Not to mention some excellent, inventive and lusty fisticuffs courtesy of fight director Kevin McCurdy.

This is an As You Like It bursting with youth and vigour, from the gruff sibling rough-and-tumble of the rival brothers Oliver and Orlando in the opening scene, to the girlish plotting of Celia and Rosalind who plan their flight to the mysterious Forest of Arden (though Rosalind has been exiled from the court on pain of death) as if they were discussing their outfits for the school disco. The two best friends twitter and squeal about Rosalind's all-consuming love at first sight for Orlando like overexcited teenagers enjoying a sleepover. When the callow Orlando, also banished to the forest, writes his endless love poems to Rosalind and scatters them behind him as he roams, sheets of paper fall from the sky like the lovelorn pages of a schoolboy's rough book.

It's one of few tricks in Sharrock's fairly spare and, for the most part, beautifully-spoken production. There's a nice moment when the black-clad pillars of the court transform into the trees of the forest, but the emphasis here is firmly on "making sport", mining the comedy of the lines and mugging them to maximum effect for the delighted groundlings. Occasionally some of the big speeches hurry through undistinguished but the songs – so often a dramatic low point – are performed touchingly by Peter Gale's Amiens.

Of the four youthful lovers, Jack Laskey's Orlando is a tousled-haired, saucer-eyed Jack-the-lad in brown leathers who never seems quite aware of what's happening to him. Laura Rogers as Celia is a dead ringer for Blackadder's Queenie – all petulant pouts and coquettish ginger curls – and none the worse for that. She quickly charms Oliver (erstwhile History Boy Jamie Parker, clear as a bell) who makes a pleasing transformation from the squat, black-clad, bad-tempered brother of the opening scenes to the sunny, ecstatic young lover, a white sash slung around his waist, of the final act.

Sadly, as Rosalind, Naomi Frederick – last seen as the romantically repressed Laura Jesson in Kneehigh's Brief Encounter – doesn't quite hold the stage. Though ardent, there's something strangely humourless about her interpretation of Shakespeare's most cheekily risky of lovers and her speeches don't quite captivate.

The supporting cast of "country copulatives" are full of verve. Dominic Rowan brings a deliciously weird touch to Touchstone, a camp, knowing jester, embarrassed by his jingling slippers but full of silliness nonetheless. His foil is a magnificently lugubrious Jacques, played by Tim McMullan, looking and sounding like a tipsy Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

Sharrock's joyous production – complete with oom-pah-pah brass band up on the balcony – leaves us in no doubt as to which of these two truth-tellers' world views she'd like us to espouse in the final wedding scene. The action is rounded out not with a traditional Elizabethan jig but with a hyper-energetic Bollywood dance routine borrowed from a certain recent Oscar-winning smash hit. Feelgood theatre, indeed.

To 10 October in rep (020-7401 9919; )

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