As You Like It – Globe to Globe

As You Like It, The Globe, 19 May 2012

The Georgian production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy from Marjanishvili Theatre created a whimsical world from which darkness was eventually expelled. The action was presented as a play within a play, which proved an inherently playful concept.

Interestingly, the Georgian phrase ‘rogorts genebot’, the translation of the play title, was worked into the performance text at several points.

The Globe stage was dominated by a low white platform with poles at either side between which a line was hung bearing a white curtain. Large, light coloured travelling trunks stood upended and opened at either side. As the audience gathered two of the cast appeared and shut themselves in one of the trunks. When the performance began, the remainder of the cast entered slowly and deliberately, making eerie sounds using wet fingers on glass rims, whistling wind noises and triangles.

They approached the stage within the stage and began acting like a theatre company setting up for a performance, hammering away at the stage, arranging posters, pulling the curtain across the back, amid general bustle. They were dressed in something resembling Edwardian period costume.

Orlando (Nika Kuchava) hit his thumb with a hammer and then complained to Adam (actress Ketevan Tskhakaia), who took him aside and poured alcohol on the wound, making him smart with pain. A dark-suited character, looking like the theatre manager assumed the part of Oliver (Nikoloz Tavadze) and argued with Orlando. But his authority was undercut by him forgetting his lines until prompted.

The fight that developed between Orlando and Oliver was quite serious. It ended with Adam being called an old dog which he repaid by biting Oliver on the hand. Oliver’s brief speech threatening to bring his brother to heel was played straight as if being presented in all seriousness by the company. As if to underline the point, the entire cast also sang the name of the play they were presenting in English: “As You Like It”.

The production consistently toyed with its play-within-a-play concept. When not on the platform the cast stood at the side, prompted, played cards or chess, and contributed sound effects where necessary.

Le Beau (Onise Oniani) sat at the front of the platform explaining the news at court to Oliver. This dry recitation was enlivened by Le Beau holding a candelabra while making a sandwich with lettuce ham and mustard, which he then tried to toast over the candles. He was interrupted by the arrival of Charles the wrestler (Roland Okropiridze), who also spoke about events at court, so that the two spoke briefly at once. But the wrestler threw him out of the way and continued his report.

The increasingly villainous Oliver delivered his final soliloquy on the platform, outlining his hope that Charles would dispense with Orlando.

Celia (Nato Kakhidze) and redhead Rosalind (Ketevan Shatirishvili) looked delightful as their appeared at the side of the platform in their pastel dresses. But once Rosalind found herself facing the audience, she was overcome with stage fright, requiring much prompting from the sides and from Celia. As if to underline her own skill at learning lines, Celia spoke her complex “Herein I see thou lovest me not…” speech really quickly. When Rosalind asked “What think you of falling in love?” she and Celia looked admiringly at a groundling.

Touchstone (Malkhaz Abuladze), who interrupted their love talk, was gregariously witty in his chequered waistcoat and hat.

Le Beau came with news of the wrestling and once again enlivened his report with some stage business. This time he kept dropping papers he was holding; no sooner had one item been placed back in his grip that he let fall another. The repetition was rather like juggling in reverse. He spoke in French, trying to say “Attention!”, holding his nose to get the correct degree of nasality. The others also addressed him in French saying “Bonjour Monsieur Le Beau…”

Orlando and Rosalind exchanged lingering looks when they first met. Orlando’s infatuation was made plain by the way he repeatedly lifted Celia out of the way and planted her to one side in order to have an uninterrupted gaze at Rosalind.

During the wrestling match Orlando was thrown completely off the platform, but was caught by the others and bounced back on again. The young man eventually got the better of Charles by kicking him in the crotch. Charles was briefly replaced by a dummy that Orlando slammed vigorously and effortlessly onto the platform.

Confronting the winner of the bout, Duke Frederick (Beso Baratashvili) moved Rosalind out of the way with his stick in order to talk to Orlando.

After the Duke’s rebuff, Rosalind gave Orlando her necklace. He tried to thank her, but only the beginnings of words stuttered out.

Le Beau warned Orlando to leave. But despite bringing bad news, Le Beau was hugged because of his information about Rosalind.

Duke Frederick banished Rosalind, giving rise to a fierce argument. There was a running gag involving the Duke requiring constant prompting of his lines. As Aliena and Ganymede set off for forest the cloth curtain was removed from the line.

The first scene set in forest was a soliloquy by Jaques, who was played by actress Nata Murvanidze in a grey coat, her short black hair swept down on one side. This was probably the reported speech of 2.1 where the foresters describe Jaques’ encounter with an injured stag.

Our initial encounter with the world of the forest involved a direct dose of Jaques’ melancholy, rather than Duke Senior’s upbeat assessment of forest life leading into a humorous account of what Jaques said.

When Jaques concluded, a wind machine under the platform blew a shower of autumnal leaves into the air that swirled about him to the amazement of the audience.

When Orlando and Adam fled, Oliver burnt a tissue paper model of Orlando’s house. The brief incandescent flame vividly demonstrated the intensity of Oliver’s hatred. Adam, who was on the platform, fainted backwards and fell onto Orlando’s back. The young man carried him off.

Rosalind needed some practice at male impersonation. She skipped into the forest giggling with excitement. she had a moustache drawn on her face, but she still had her hair down and her clothing was still feminine. Catching sight of Corin (Davit Khurtsilava), she crumpled in insecurity before adopting a series of manly poses. Touchstone carried Celia on her back and then dumped her into the arms of a very surprised Corin. The new arrivals begged for food and Corin fed them with an apple. But when he drew the knife to cut it, the newly arrived travellers withdrew in horror thinking he might attack them with it. This pointed to the savage reputation of the forest, which Orlando had in mind later when he came across the Duke’s forest camp.

After arranging to buy the nearby house, Corin once again became a beast of burden, carrying Celia as well as all the luggage.

Amiens (Roland Okropiridze again) was slightly fey and wore a floral crown, indicating a certain feminisation. He sang for the melancholy Jaques while the exiled Duke (Beso Baratashvili again) set out a meal for the three of them. Orlando burst in brandishing a knife demanding food, primarily for Adam. His wish was granted.

Jaques spoke his “seven ages” speech making use of the cast at the side of the platform. Rosalind was just off-platform, but still in character reading a love poem she had found. She was pointed out as the lover. One of the older members served as the pantaloon. The fatigued and famished Adam slowly walked across the platform towards Jacques, becoming the epitome of senescent man, after which he fainted.

Adam was fed and, reviving, he smiled at the audience as the interval was announced.

The second half began with the exciting spectacle of Orlando at the edge of the yard holding white balloons decorated with his verses. He was shadowed by Rosalind and Celia who crept behind him. Rosalind had by now adopted a proper male disguise with her hair tucked under a cap, with breeches and waistcoat. The women took all but one of the balloons and released them into the air.

As the balloons floated beyond the Globe stage canopy an audible “aw!” arose from the audience.

The two women watched Jaques as he pithily criticised Orlando’s poetry and then a flirty Rosalind offered to cure Orlando of his love sickness. She relished pointing out that he had none of the signs of a typical lover. But the prospect of having Orlando call her disguised form “Rosalind” seemed to impassion her the most.

The debate between Touchstone and Corin was separated out from the Orlando love poem sequence, with the cast offstage making a variety of animal noises to underline that they were in the country. Corin was fishing and a fake fish was wiggled just off the platform and thrown on stage to represent a catch. A second fish was supposed to be caught, but without the prop they had to improvise with a boot.

The burgeoning romance between Touchstone and Audrey (Manana Kozakova) saw the shepherdess milk a foam sheep wearing a floral crown. As she pulled on the animal’s non-existent dugs, an off-platform actor added realistic sound effects by squirting liquid into a bucket.

When Touchstone offered to wed Audrey she ran around the platform with joy. They set off to be married under an arch made of two furled parasols. Interestingly there was no hint that Touchstone was cynical or insincere in his affections. Their relationship was portrayed as genuine and not heartless opportunism on Touchstone’s part. Neither did Jaques get involved to cast aspersions on them.

The meeting between the Duke and his daughter Rosalind was briefly staged rather than being reported, as in the text. He looked as if he almost recognised her.

The action continued with the sequence involving Silvius (Zurab Berikashvili) and Phebe (Tamar Bukhnikashvili).

Phebe was so impressed by the disguised Rosalind that she not only made cow eyes at her, but also tried to kiss her. Rosalind deflected a second attempt at mouth-to-mouth contact by grasping Phebe’s pursed lips and directing them at Silvius.

The leaf blower started up again to create a scene of leaf-strewn anarchy.

Rosalind criticised Jaques for his melancholy, and the dark-coated grump departed when the tardy Orlando arrived. Rosalind got far too physically close to Orlando for Celia’s liking, obliging her to separate them. But soon Celia was called upon to perform the handfasting, which brought them closer together romantically. Rosalind concluded by warning Orlando of her impending jealousy as a married woman.

In a major reworking of the text, Orlando and Oliver actually met and fought each other, resulting in Orlando receiving a cut from Oliver’s knife. But they immediately made up and Orlando’s wound was bound in a handkerchief.

Oliver asked Celia where he could find Ganymede. Their eyes met, instilling in Oliver a similar fervour over Celia that his brother Orlando had experienced on seeing Rosalind.

After moving Rosalind brusquely aside, Oliver and Celia sat under parasols as he recounted the story of his journey into the forest. Rosalind took the bloodstained cloth and, realising that it was soaked in Orlando’s blood, she fainted.

But the love doves Oliver and Celia were so engrossed in each other’s company that they initially failed to notice Rosalind’s condition.

The character of William was cut, so Touchstone had a fight with Corin over Audrey. It spilled off the platform with a trunk being toppled onto one of Touchstone, who proceeded to feign death for a while until the joke was revealed to an angry but grateful Audrey.

Oliver, Orlando and Rosalind discussed Oliver’s newfound love for Celia, which culminated in them creating a storm of leaves by scooping them from the ground in their open parasols and wafting them around. Oliver and Celia sat at the back huddled in privacy under an umbrella facing away from the audience. This cosy intimacy left Orlando disconsolate at his brother’s happiness. Rosalind said she would resolve matters.

Phebe, Orlando and Rosalind listened to Silvius describe what it meant to be in love, leading them to affirm their passion for their respective partners.

After his last “and I for Rosalind”, Orlando embraced and kissed “Ganymede” and quickly recoiled. This was the first indication that, perhaps on a subliminal level, Orlando had seen through Rosalind’s disguise.

Rosalind positioned herself at the front edge of the platform and the others circled round her stepping off and on as she explained the terms on which they would all be married the next day.

Touchstone and Audrey returned from their marriage looking a very happy couple. Again there was no cynical humour about a poor ceremony giving Touchstone a route out of wedlock.

A messenger brought news of Duke Frederick’s conversion and Duke Senior’s crown was returned to him. It was placed on his head, but this action nearly removed the wig the actor was wearing as Duke Senior and he struggled to reposition it before donning the crown. This sequence replaced Touchstone’s comic sequence about the degrees of the lie.

Celia and Rosalind, now undisguised and with her red hair flowing freely, entered in their wedding dresses, accompanied not by Hymen but by a priest.

The couples were united with Phebe reconciled to marry Silvius. Jaques blessed them all with no hint of sarcasm at the marriage of Touchstone and Audrey.

But as the gloomy of Jaques slinked away from the festivities, he was bundled mid-sentence inside a trunk, which was slammed shut.

Thus was the personification of melancholy and the antithesis of the production’s entire ethos silenced and excluded from the world of the play.

On that apt note, the performance concluded with another rendition of the theme song “As You Like It” and leaves were again wafted in an atmosphere of celebration.

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