One of the best things about being in London, besides the simple fact of being in London, is the opportunity it offers for going to the theater. And chief among its theater delights are productions of Shakespeare. It’s not just a matter of having the right accent; it’s a dedication to the work, which is rightly considered a diamond in England’s tiara and which forms the foundation of many of England’s acting schools.
Perhaps ironically, the construction of one of the foremost centers of Shakespearean theater in London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, was initiated by an American—director and producer Sam Wanamaker. He spent some 23 years fund-raising, supporting research on the original Globe Theater and supervising the plans for rebuilding the oval-shaped, tiered house. He died three years before the rebuilt Globe opened in 1997, sited not far from where Shakespeare’s original theater stood on the southern bank of the Thames.
During the height of the summer tourist season, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater has an air that is Disney-like in its newness and cleanliness, a quality reinforced by the presence of an upscale-looking pub and a concession store packed with T-shirts, mugs, buttons, tiny books of the plays and other ephemeral memorabilia. But the commercial “stuff” belies what happens onstage, which is solid gold and worth more than the fillings in your teeth.
Multimedia is ever present in today’s theater. Video projections, real-time feedback loops shadowing the actors, aerialists flying through space to reverberant music—they appear with more and more frequency onstage, and they are thrilling. We ogle the dimensions of their effects like children in a candy store. But, although the new Globe is capable of the latest in theatrical staging, none of that was used in the afternoon performance I saw of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. No sets, no lighting, the barest of props, no gymnastics. What we got were the essentials: brilliant acting and inspired, knowledgeable directing.
True, we got beautiful period costuming, too—the god Hymen dressed in transparent gold cloth was an otherworldly marvel—but these actors could have been dressed in Marks and Sparks cotton underwear and they still would have conjured our total involvement and rapture.
And like it we did
Set in the pastoral Forest of Arden, As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s more amiable plays. The darkness that sets the play in motion is a common theme: a rivalry between powerful siblings and their struggle over inheritance; treachery is the shadowy undercurrent of the play’s action. But the forest to which the dispossessed escape is full of sheep, song and love-besotted youths, shepherds and aristocrats alike. I have always been struck—love struck, starstruck—with the central image of Orlando’s romantic expression. Imagine wandering through a forest, pinning love poems to trees. Sublime.
Shakespeare doesn’t allow for easy sentiment, however. Those arbor-enhancing poems are simpleminded and awkwardly phrased, yet they are addressed to the clever and sharp-minded Rosalind, who recognizes them for what they are: blather, but heartfelt and loving blather.
Jack Laskey, tall, thin and good-looking, with a mop of unruly hair, plays as earnest and good-hearted an Orlando as any girl could hanker for. And Naomi Frederick, also tall, slender and good-looking but with a sleeker haircut, makes a lively and elegant Rosalind, thoroughly comfortable and convincing as one of those enviable Shakespearean women who has wit, charm and the soul of an angel. They are supported by a roster of talented players, which included Tim McMullan as Jaques and Dominic Rowan as Touchstone.
Everyone was set in motion by director Thea Sharrock, who kept the action moving inexorably—through blackest complication to the play’s light and sunny resolution.
Going to London? Plan on visiting the Globe. Until then, remember that Shakespeare’s Globe Theater is bringing its Love’s Labour’s Lost to Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall Wednesday, Nov. 4 through Sunday, Nov. 8. Special Family pricing for the Saturday, Nov. 7, matinee performance: ages 16 and under are half price. On Thursday, Nov. 5, and Friday, Nov. 6, 7-7:30 pm, there is a Sightlines pre-performance talk with members of the company at Zellerbach Hall. This event is free to all event ticket holders.