Director Ellen McDougall’s production of Shakespeare’s pastoral romance brings a much-needed infusion of warmth to this lacklustre summer. The play’s been given a light dusting of modernity, topped and tailed with speeches penned by trans artist Travis Alabanza, and with the cast singing songs by the likes of Troye Sivan and Tegan and Sarah (not well, but charmingly).
The Globe’s now-habitual gender-fluid approach to casting chimes perfectly with this story of disguise and confusion: we might be experiencing the same kind of mind-expanding uncertainty Shakespeare’s original audience felt. Above all, I believed in almost all of the relationships here, which is rare. Even the lesser characters are endowed with dignity, at no expense to their comic value.
Nina Bowers is an enthralling, expressive Rosalind, who looks a bit like Prince and a bit like Derek Griffiths when raffishly disguised as a man: neither is a bad thing in my book. She and Isabel Adomakoh Young’s Orlando mirror each other’s mannerisms and exhilarated infatuation and have the same facial hair: it really does look like each has found their missing other half. Macy-Jacob Seelochan as Celia adds a bit of sardonic salt to balance their sweetness.
There’s hardly any set: just the scents of lavender and woodsmoke wafting by, and some slogans on a washing line strung beneath the open, thatched roof. Oh, and a skein of silk representing a giant vagina from which Rosalind is reborn as a woman. The costumes, by Max Johns, are a sort of queer, clubby take on Elizabethan doublet and hose. As the characters increasingly go native, having fled the court for the primeval forest, their clothes become more disarrayed.
McDougall’s decision to stage the early wrestling match, at which Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, in the Globe’s pit means that half the audience can’t see it. But otherwise she successfully pushes the action out into the wooden auditorium, recasting it as the forest where Orlando pins his love poems.
Both Alex Austin’s acidly camp Jaques and Tessa Parr’s horny Touchstone have excellent rapport with the audience. There’s even a bit of inoffensive call-and-response interaction, and some clapping along. A hefty chunk of late plot is avoided when Bowers’ Rosalind turns to the audience and wheedlingly suggests: “Let’s just… go to the next scene?”
McDougall’s production is not always subtle but it is consistently delightful. And it made me hear some familiar passages, like Rosalind and Jaques debating the values of melancholy and merriment, as if they were new. A pleasure.
Shakespeare’s Globe, to 29 Oct; shakespearesglobe.com