By William Shakespeare
Directed by James Dacre
Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe
Date: Thursday 6th September 2012
I was reminded that this was a touring production as soon as I saw the set. A low wooden platform sat between the stage pillars, with a wooden crate centre front and a much larger box construction behind it, just in front of the balcony. I could see a door on the near side of this homemade portakabin (with the Shakespeare’s Globe logo on it) and I assumed there would be a door on the other side; I couldn’t see any obvious exits/entrances at the front. Four tall ladders poked up above this box, one on each side and two at the back, and there was some luggage sitting on the top of it – a trunk and a hatbox – which suggested the girls’ flight into the forest. A sturdy wooden post anchored each corner of the front section of the platform, and I could also see an old camera on a tripod on the far side of the stage, complete with its black cloth for the photographer’s head. There was also a small brass bowl just behind the near pillar, a wicker hamper lurking on the far side of the stage, largely hidden by the far pillar, and I spotted another box or hamper secreted behind the portakabin on our side of the stage. My eyesight wasn’t up to identifying a small dark shape beside the far front post – no doubt that will become clear in time. Nothing else was visible at this point, and the stage proper had been cut back to its usual size, with steps at each side and two lots at the front about level with the corners of the platform. The costumes were all late Victorian.
The black thing turned out to be the flash gun for the camera, but that came later. To begin with, most of the actors in the cast came out of the box from the portakabin’s side doors, apart from a few who appeared through trapdoors in the roof. They played assorted instruments, not the most harmonious sound, and sang a made-up song to introduce the performance. Touchstone also did a short speech as part of this, and even took a quick turn around the pit during it, which helped to get the audience involved. I didn’t catch all of the words, but there was a fair bit of laughter, so not a bad start.
During the opening song, the cast had brought on the wooden box from behind the portakabin, and I could see it contained apples. At the end of the song, the non-openers stood on stage holding an apple in each hand and gradually raised them up, presumably to represent the orchard setting of the first scene. As Orlando and Adam got the scene underway, the others placed the apples on the ground and left the stage, which allowed Orlando to pick up the fruit and put it in the box during the scene.
For once the dialogue was wonderfully clear and I heard every syllable of these scenes; since the portakabin blocked half the stage and the pillars just about did for the rest, hearing this play was our only hope. Old Adam was doubled with Touchstone, so not only was he wearing a hat and brown coat, he also had tremors in his hands to indicate how old he was. Orlando introduced us to his own situation, and when his brother approached from the pit they had a mighty tussle (behind the pillars) which Orlando definitely won – I glimpsed Oliver kneeling down at one point. Charles the wrestler also approached from the audience but he took a lot longer to reach the stage, using the pretty route to deliver most of his ‘news’. Oliver gave him a banknote as inducement to kill Orlando for him, and I noticed he kissed the rest of the notes before he put them back – mercenary or what? Charles took the hint, and I reflected that his career was almost over, given his promise to quit the ring if Orlando walked away from their fight. Oliver’s description of his hatred for his brother was nicely done and I thought it was worthy of some laughs; not so the audience.
Rosalind and Celia used the camera at the start of their scene. Rosalind was carrying a lily and was handed some grapes to hold in an aesthetic pose while Celia placed the camera on the platform to take her picture. Their conversation was also very clear and for once Celia not only came across as Rosalind’s equal, she was even stronger than her in this scene. When Rosalind suggested they fall in love, she sat Celia down on her knee (I assume she was kneeling herself to do this). Touchstone’s arrival changed the tone, and I could see that the women were keen to make use of his wit to cheer themselves up. Le Beau delivered his message, and then the stage was set up for the wrestling match by threading a rope through the eyes on the corner posts and drawing it tight. The women disappeared off and reappeared on the other side of the stage, Rosalind with a hat and Celia with an umbrella, presumably formal wear for ladies of rank attending wrestling matches. But they were all over the stage during this scene, and when Orlando arrived and stripped off his shirt, they were all over the stage in more ways than one. This Celia was definitely attracted to Orlando as much as Rosalind was, and it was touch and go as to which one would get to him first.
The wrestling took a while, and Orlando was definitely getting the worse of it for a long time. He was banged against the portakabin and fell over the rope onto the front of the stage but still managed to recover and get back into the fight, delivering some nasty blows to Charles and even kicking him in a sensitive spot when Charles was finally on the floor himself. Despite his wrestler being beaten,the Duke was very pleased until he found out who Orlando was. The Duke had taken a bag, which presumably contained the prize money, and was about to hand it over when Orlando announced his parentage. The Duke froze, kept the money and left soon afterwards, clearly angry.
Orlando then had his two ‘conversations’ with Celia and Rosalind. Celia was the first to congratulate him, coming into the wrestling ring to do so, but Rosalind swept past her and gave her chain to Orlando, much to Celia’s annoyance. Orlando, of course, was mute. With Celia beginning to accept that Orlando wasn’t for her, she and Rosalind left the stage by the front steps, getting almost to the exit before Rosalind came out with her pathetic excuse that he’d called them back. It was very funny, and with a courtier watching this going on, I was aware that these actions prompted the Duke’s banishment of Rosalind because he didn’t want his daughter to be led astray by people he regarded as his enemies.
Rosalind’s passion for Orlando was well expressed in the next scene, followed by the Duke’s anger and her banishment. The latter part of the scene was mostly hidden but they got the story across well enough, and again the planning of their flight showed Celia to be at least as strong a character as her cousin. When choosing their noms de fuite, Celia took a little time to get out the “alien” part, then hastily added the “a” to make it sound more plausible, which we found very funny. Orlando was likewise soon on his travels, with the faithful Adam as his companion; I think this happened before the first scene in the forest, but I’m not sure.
Moving on to the first forest scene, where the banished Duke could have been his usurping brother’s twin, we were shown Jacques (played by Emma Pallant as a female character) up on the roof of the portakabin, where she acted out her part while the First Lord (no idea who was doing this bit) recounted the story of Jacques’ musings on the injured deer. Emma spoke Jacques’ own lines for this, so we were familiar with who was playing the part before her proper entrance – a good move with such unusual casting.
I think this may have been the first place where an actor changed character on stage, with Duke Senior turning into Duke Frederick before our very eyes and finding out about his daughter’s flight. The text has the Orlando/Adam scene here – maybe, maybe not – then Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone turned up in Arden and the fun really began.
They were carrying suitcases and Touchstone was also carrying Celia on his back. Ganymede was in workman’s clothes, with a short, waistcoat, rough trousers and a cap, while Celia wore a plain frock. Touchstone was still in his lime green suit, a sight for sore eyes (to make them sore, that is). Corin and Silvius entered by the side stairs and sat chatting in the front corner of the stage on our side; to hide from them the three new arrivals crouched behind the suitcases. Silvius was wonderfully silly, while Touchstone’s comments on the folly of lovers came across very clearly.
After Corin took them away to the sheepcote, I think the next scene started with Amiens singing Under The Greenwood Tree; I forget the style, but it was very pleasant. While this was going on, Jacques sat front right on the steps, irritated by the noise and studying or writing in her notebook. Her discourse with Amiens was nicely brittle, and she gave the impression of being an unhappy woman who had turned cynical rather than being a cynic by nature. The short scene with Orlando bringing Adam into the forest may have come before the singing, but either way Adam was left propped up against the ladder on the portakabin roof while Orlando went to find food. I forgot to mention that, at an earlier point, some panels on the front of the portakabin were swung back to reveal a forest scene, with double doors for access to the stage.
Duke Senior returned to the stage which now had a picnic laid out on a blanket. Jacques also returned, all excited at having met a fool in the forest, and her description of the encounter was very well done. Orlando came through the doors, as I recall, and threatened them with his knife. He grabbed Jacques and held the knife to her throat, which made him seem much more ruthless than usual. He was soon persuaded by the Duke to soften his approach, and after he left to get Adam, Jacques gave us the famous “seven ages of man” speech. It was strange hearing it from a woman, and it gave a more observational flavour to the familiar lines. With Orlando’s parentage acknowledged, the scene was over and they took the interval, with Jacques hanging a sign to that effect on the portakabin door handles.
Act 3 scene 1 may have started the second half, or it may have happened earlier or later; I’m usually happy for directors to change the order of events, but it does give me problems writing these notes at times. The stage had been well papered during the interval, with sheets on the pillars, the posts, the doors, just about everywhere you could stick a sheet of paper. Touchstone sat on the portakabin roof for the first part of his chat with Corin, but came down during it to complete the scene. When Rosalind arrived, he made good use of the audience when composing the string of rhyming couplets; we joined in with “Rosalind” each time. When it came to “must find love’s prick, and Rosalind”, he introduced a long pause while he fumbled in his trousers for a rather squashed rose, then continued the verse; some folk had kept the rhythm going and said “Rosalind” anyway, but we also joined in at the appropriate time.
Celia and Rosalind’s conversation went pretty well and then Orlando turned up with Jacques in tow. The two of them were awkward company and Jacques soon left, which allowed Rosalind to confront Orlando and begin the reverse wooing. I saw very little of the action of this scene, but the dialogue was clear, and there were some laughs which suggested the reactions and business were good fun. Celia sat on the bench during most of this.
Touchstone’s’ wooing of Audrey was next, and again the casting was unusual. John O’Mahony was fine as the fraternal Dukes, but wouldn’t have been most people’s first choice as Audrey. The beard would have put off many a casting director, but once we got over that, his pretty frock and feminine charms completely won us over. Sir Oliver Martext was as drunk as a skunk and played very little part in the proceedings, staggering off the stage some moments after the rest of the wedding party had left.
Rosalind was very put out that Orlando had missed his appointment, and Celia was doing her best to convince her cousin that Orlando was indeed faithless. The encounter with Silvius and Phebe was good fun. Emma Pallant was doubling Phebe with Jacques, and she played both parts very strongly. At the end of that scene she changed into Jacques on stage and continued immediately to talk with Ganymede. I had the impression that Jacques was also attracted to this woman-as-man, and that her unhappiness at Orlando’s arrival was partly because he interrupted their conversation.
The second wooing between the two of them went well enough, with Rosalind being very changeable. They may have had a song in the interlude and then Silvius brought the letter from Phebe. After revealing the contents of the letter, Rosalind sent him packing just as Oliver arrived with the bloody napkin. I couldn’t see all of Celia’s behaviour at this point, but she was clearly taken with this new arrival. When Rosalind fainted, Oliver definitely found out that she was a woman, and Steve reckoned he also realised that she had to be Rosalind (he does know about the flight of Rosalind and Celia after all). I wasn’t sure about that part, and I also wasn’t sure how much Orlando knew later on, but that might have been clearer from a better angle than ours.
With a cast limited in number, William was unavailable for comment in this production, so they went straight into Orlando and Oliver’s conversation followed by Rosalind’s arrival. The quartet with Silvius and Phebe was nicely done, then they skipped the following song and continued with the Duke’s entrance for the wedding scene. Jacques had to miss the wedding, as Phebe was present in her white dress; in fact all the brides wore a similar dress – probably not much choice in the forest’s one and only bridal shop. Audrey was also present, as a life-size cardboard cut-out, and we really enjoyed her performance despite the lack of action. Touchstone carried her on and left on the right corner of the stage, then came across later to tell her to “bear your body more seeming, Audrey”, which was very funny. He also took Audrey off at the end to clear the stage for the dance.
With Jacques missing they dropped Touchstone’s quarrel routine (shame) so in no time at all Rosalind was back in her wedding dress, ready to marry the man she loves. The news about Duke Frederick’s conversion arrived, and with some slipping of coats on and off Jacques finished her part in the play, leaving the rest, including Phebe, to end the show with a happy dance. No epilogue.
It was a lively performance, with some interesting choices and a strong and clear story. There was also a good deal of humour, including some from the invasion of the pigeons! So many of them were landing on the stage that Touchstone had to chase them off before continuing with his lines. At some point he also encouraged us to keep clapping after some business or other; then he told us to stop, then to keep it up – it was all good fun. I would have liked to have seen more of the action, but we did get a good idea of the production despite our side-on view, and I thought the entire cast did an excellent job. There was more music than I’ve commented on, sometimes discordant, sometimes pleasant, and the cast’s interaction with the audience was very good. Their touring venues have been informal, from the looks of them, so presumably they’ve had plenty of practice.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me