I am almost ashamed to admit to how many times I have worked/watched As You Like It at the Pop-up Globe – 33. According to my diary, I will reach 40 shows by the season’s end, which seems nuts. I did 30 Romeo and Juliet’s last season, and 37 Twelfth Night’s, but such was last season that I spent a lot of that time taking care of 101 different tasks. This time around, I have been in the playhouse all the time, and have the benefit of hundreds of hours of Shakespeare.
But again, the disclaimer – I tend not to review books/shows/articles/anything done by friends unless specifically requested. This is an exception; I was not asked to review, I chose to, and while I do have friends at the PuG, I have done all I can to be impartial. Also, no whining about spoilers; Shakespeare wrote it in 1599. The PuG season is 90% done. Let’s not go down the spoiler road again.
As You Like it, written about 1599, can be seen in different ways – either a light and easy musical comedy, or a romantic comedy with multiple layers and themes running throughout. Either way, you are guaranteed a good night out, and from what I hear in the groundlings night after night, that is precisely how people feel. As You Like It at PuG has a huge number of people who visit over and over, not for the story, but for the men who play the roles, such is their likeability and charisma on stage. The sheer volume of squealing teenage girls lining up to get in each night is testament to the pull of the King’s Company at PuG have on the under 20’s of Auckland.
As You Like It is not one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, despite having the infamous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech neatly slipped in among the revelry. The beauty of As You Like It is the simplicity of the play, while Duke Senior and Duke Frederick are an older brother being usurped by the younger, Oliver and Orlando de Boys are an older brother denying the younger his inheritance from the deceased father. The story swirls about love, the love between Rosalind and Celia, two cousins together no matter what, and the love they find in the de Boys brothers, which comes together for forgiveness and healing in the stock-standard happy ending.
At the heart of it, As You Like It is goofball comedy. Touchstone (a role totally owned by Michael Mahony) is the fool of the court who runs away to the forest with Rosalind and Celia when they flee Duke Frederick in favour of the now-destitute Duke Senior. Touchstone is endlessly optimist and the cross-dressing done by Rosalind as she morphs into Ganymede gives an audience hours of homoerotic comedy that has many a parent covering children’s eyes while always laughing hysterically (I don’t bother; my 10 and 11yo boys don’t get it; my 12 and 13yo boys cringe through orgasms. Though, they are boys so will never miss a penis joke, regardless of age)
Men playing women playing men isn’t new to PuG; everyone’s darling, the talented Aaron Richardson, did so as Viola/Cesario last season (who I saw in another As You Like It performance not two months ago). This year Jonathon Tynan-Moss takes PuG gender-bending one step further; playing Rosalind, who pretends to be Ganymede, who also impersonates Rosalind. Phew. To me, there is no PuG without the voice and excitement of Jonathon Tynan-Moss, and not just because I have watched well in excess of 100 shows (I want to guess about 130?) performed by him. There is no mystery involved as to how Tynan-Moss was brought back for a second season; if there was ever a man who could take on Rosalind in the 21st century, he is it. Despite the King’s Company being roundly advertised as an all-male cast, I have still stumbled upon probably 100 people genuinely surprised when they realised Rosalind is played by a man.
In a cast bursting with big personalities all vying for your love, As You Like It belongs to Tynan-Moss. From first appearing as a tearful young woman shaken by ill-treatment, to a girl who falls in love at first sight with the sweet Orlando, Tynan-Moss is as tender and opportunistic as any young girl in love. Then comes Ganymede, where Rosalind has to suddenly turn from court-softened girl to country-hardened man – ‘I could find in my heart to disgrace my man’s apparel and to cry like a woman, but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat’. Tynan-Moss brings the audience to constant laughter as Rosalind finds herself in Ganymede, something of a English chav in a doublet and hose (which I feel Shakespeare would have enjoyed). There is a ridiculous amount of comedy in how Rosalind grossly overcompensates in her attempts to seem manly, and how quickly those manly expressions collapse when Orlando appears, despite her best efforts. It takes a huge amount of physical presence to keep up with the male actor-playing vulnerable woman-desperate to be a man-who melts at the sight of her love, and I honestly wondered how that would all fly when PuG first announced the whole arrangement. How could a man understand a woman’s need to hide under the guise of a man for safety? Isn’t that whole aspect of the story lost by casting a man to play the role? The answer is yes, it is lost, and it doesn’t matter, even to this ardent feminist. It becomes irrelevant in a story of a gentle girl who goes out to seek her father in the forest and finds herself instead, all done beautifully in the hands of Jonathon Tynan-Moss.
The cast of As You Like It is filled to the brim with big characters, each worthy of a review on their own. Stanley Andrew Jackson is the cousin/sister we all wish we had, as Celia/Aliena, the voice of reason against Rosalind’s whimsy, and young and sassy enough to win everyone’s hearts. Pink-clad Chris Huntly-Turner steal every scene he enters as Le Beau, Duke Frederick’s French lover. You could put on a show called ‘The Life and Times of Le Beau’ and crowds would be forming around the block. Duke Frederick, played by Stephen Butterworth, is the villain of the story yet impossible to dislike. Joe Dekkers-Reihana, who plays shepherd Silvius, threatens to be the biggest love story of the play, in love with cold Phoebus (usually a woman in the play, but PuG went full gay romance to maximum effect).
This review is already getting too long, so time for the bullet points of what you need to come and see before it disappears forever (in no particular order)-
- The enduringly sweet Adrian Hooke as Orlando as he composes songs to hang on the trees in the Forest of Arden and sings as Rosalind finds the messages of love. Any time Hooke looks at his Rosalind, and falls for Ganymede/Rosalind too, is just too precious to describe.
- Stephen Butterworth playing the Duke Frederick, joining his courtiers as they cheerlead their wrestler in a match. I know I can’t do a high-kick like that!
- Antonio Te Maioha playing both Charles the wrestler and Audrey the poor virgin shepherdess. Has a script ever had two such opposite roles in one play?
- Any moment when John Bayne sings. Since As You Like It is the most musical of all Shakespeare plays, we are all in luck. Then he dangles from a roof and sorts out the mess which is a huge homoerotic love fest.
- The pure physical comedy of Joel Herbert as Oliver, the less loveable of the de Boys brothers who ends up still being loveable.
- Edward Newborn as Corin and Michael Mahony as Touchstone trying to seriously discuss the differences between the country and the court while sheep get drunk on stage and start judging humans.
- The serious Stephen Papps as Jacques and Rawiri Paratene as regal Duke Senior as the only two adults on stage while everyone else is ridiculous.
- The singing of Jonathon Martin as Phoebus outlines his love for Ganymede. Hands down the best moment of the show.
- Joe Dekkers-Reihana describing what it is to be in love – ‘It is to be all made of fantasy, all made of passion and all made of wishes, all adoration, duty, and observance, all humbleness, all patience and impatience, all purity, all trial, all observance, and so am I for Phoebus’
- Barry de Lore as Martext vomiting on the audience and high-fiving the Duke, who has leaves stuck in his hair. If de Lore’s vomits misses you, instead you may get hit with a flying tooth
- A Titanic-themed montage between two male shepherds, a duke and his courtier and two male sheep
- Oscar West as the most innocent sheep you could imagine, who then goes on to play a set of bagpipes
You don’t come to As You Like It in an attempt to get all cultured up (well, you could, I suppose). You come for the fun, and it is delivered night after night. The show is on constantly for 12 weeks, and keeping up the lols could be a real challenge, and yet the cast are laughing and smiling among each other at the end every night. I gave up working this show a while back and just enjoy the frivolity of the show with friends or by myself (hopefully no one has noticed how often I am there. One actor has, and I told him why I come so much, and he was lovely about it).
Gender at PuG – UGH
I looked up cast-lists of all-male As You Like It‘s in the 20th century. There were plenty, but are far outnumbered by mixed gender casts. Honestly all-male casts and the issue that raises reared its ugly head last season as well. I did my best to ignore the issue (despite being a card-carrying feminist) because I had too many other battles to fight. Shakespeare doesn’t have great female characters full stop. How men write women is still largely a misogynistic mess in 2017. All-male casts can hide behind the guise of being authentic to the work. As You Like It at PuG can’t do so, they sing One direction and Celine Dion. The actors create comedic overblown characters. There is nothing authentic in the production, and never claimed to be. The King’s Company is not all male to claim authenticity. Being all male makes the show unique as it celebrates single sex love in a way that mixed gendered shows could not. Whether that was intentional, I can’t be entirely sure. Making men play women adds layers throughout the silliness of the play, in a way gender-mixed shows could not claim. The overall vibe would be totally different; not bad, just different. The PuG went with an all male cast because it worked last year.
The trouble is, an all-female cast would never be considered. It is still seen as risky or unpopular in 2017. There is the sexism that needs to be knocked on the head. A mixed gender cast would not be seen as a risk (it’s fair, assuming it’s an even split). Putting women in Shakespeare will not ruin Shakespeare. Emancipation of women didn’t destroy the world. Women fighting to vote didn’t destroy democracy, developing birth control didn’t destroy the family unit. Subsidising sanitary items will not be unfair to men (come on, society). Women on stage won’t hurt Shakespeare. Less alarm, more inclusiveness. Bringing in women instead of having all male casts will change the overall direction of the show, but that is not negative. It will show the young women in the audience (and there are plenty with PuG running show matinees) that there is a place for them on the stage, and in the world. You can’t be what you can’t see.
I would not dare want to hold a single actor accountable for the all-male cast decision. Not one of them is in the wrong. The perception that women on stage would be less successful is void; Much Ado About Nothing and Othello have women on stage (albeit not many, thank Shakespeare for that) and people pour into PuG to watch. Henry V has little for women, it’s a testosterone frenzy, written precisely to make England feel powerful over their enemies. Maybe women could play male roles. If a man can be a delightful young woman on stage, there is no reason why a woman cannot make an amazing soldier. I love every actor on the stage at PuG, male and female. I also respect all the women working backstage; without them, there would no shows to perform.
As long as male casts are seen as less of a risk, sexism is going to exist on stage. It is on audiences to part with their money for female-lead shows, not on PuG to drag slow minds into the 21st century. It’s easy to say PuG needs to make all the changes, but the naysayers are in comfy seats not taking on the audacious projects.
That’s the last time I will address this issue.
My next review is Much Ado about Nothing, plus my opinion on whether it is the shows or the building which draws the crowds.
All opinions and photos are author’s own unless specified.