Hardly any of Shakespeare’s fools are funny any more. This isn’t his fault – or theirs for that matter – it’s just that 400-year-old topical wordplay doesn’t wash so well in the Twitter age. Dominic Rowan’s Touchstone in As You Like It at the Globe Theatre is bucking the trend, to the delight of audiences. Rowan’s impeccable timing, boundless energy, and wry, self-mocking delivery breathe new comedy into the court clown turned reluctant shepherd. Rowan combines particularly well with Tim McMullan’s lugubrious and decadent Jaques, who lets fall his wonderful lines as if in love with his own melancholy.
Everybody is in love with somebody in the forest of Arden, and the leads do not disappoint: there is plenty of chemistry between Naomi Frederick’s Ganymede/Rosalind and Jack Laskey’s charismatic Orlando. Clever direction from Thea Sharrock allows the audience to make up its own mind as to when and whether Orlando knows the disguised page Ganymede is his ‘very Rosalind’. Laura Rogers’ Celia, the very image of Queen Elizabeth I, manages to make much more of the role than a forgettable female Horatio.
The forest of Arden, like Prospero’s island and the ‘wood without Athens’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a place in which the usual roles and rules don’t apply. The exiled Duke Senior is able to shed all the oppressive formality of his urban court and attract so ‘many merry men’ to him that eventually even his usurping brother falls under the forest’s spell. Shakespeare’s Arden seems to be simultaneously located in France, Belgium, and Warwickshire: it contains herds of deer, groves of olives, a huge serpent (perhaps on day release from Eden?) and a hungry lioness.
The Globe’s warm, wooden stage under the summer sky is particularly suited to these magical outdoor settings with their infinite possibilities. The very lack of a fixed set of trees and shrubs allows performers and spectators alike to imagine all that might happen if you go down to the woods today.
As You Like It is playing in repertory at the Globe Theatre House until 10th October 2009.