As You Like It was the first Shakespeare comedy I ever saw on stage, in an excellent early '90s RSC production many of whose stars ended up becoming famous in later years - including Sophie Thompson, Jerome Flynn, Jason Flemyng and, most memorably as a surprisingly acrobatic Touchstone, Mark Williams (who nowadays is known around the world as Arthur Weasley from Harry Potter, but at the time if anyone did recognise him, it would have been as the "we want to be togevva" man from the Prudential ads.) As with King Lear, my first experience of the play was so good that it's taken me nigh on 20 years to revisit it, from fear that it might not be as good as I remembered. Luckily Thea Sharrock's production at the Globe doesn't disappoint.
Rosalind may well be my favourite Shakespeare comedy heroine, and Naomi Frederick does her justice, both gutsy and girlish. She and Jack Laskey's Orlando make for a bit of a geeky pair as they fall in love at first sight and become instantly giggly. Frederick is well-matched by Laura Rogers, who gives us a very funny Celia and all three actors spark off each other well. Touchstone is the character I most remembered from my first visit to the play, one of the biggest roles for a fool in the whole Shakespeare canon, and Dominic Rowan pulls it off well. Starting off in traditional jester's motley he immediately endears himself to the audience and keeps the momentum throughout. Playing Orlando's older brother Oliver, initially a bad guy who redeems himself by the end, is History Boy Jamie Parker, who makes the most of the role and gets a lot of laughs. Notably in tonight's performance, there was a helicopter overhead that kept coming back every quarter of an hour or so, and the actors tried to speak over the noise but couldn't manage it. When it happened again during Oliver and Orlando's reconciliation, Parker opted not to try fighting it, and instead paused while he and Laskey, in character as Elizabethan actors, looked up in confusion at what the noise was - getting them a round of applause when the chopper was finally gone and they could continue the scene.
I wasn't entirely sure about Tim McMullan's slightly tipsy-seeming Jaques but otherwise this is a solid, straightforward production that keeps its tongue in its cheek and a sense of fun throughout. It's been very well tailored to the space and gets lots of big laughs, which I'd have thought is particularly impressive in a theatre where many of the audience will be there out of curiosity and may not expect to actually understand the play.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare is booking until the 10th of October at Shakespeare's Globe.