Year of Shakespeare: As You Like It

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This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.


As You Like It, Marjanishvili State Academic Drama Theatre (Georgian), dir. by Levan Tsuladze, 18 May 2012 at The Globe, London

By Georgie Lucas, Shakespeare Institute

My first thought was that the Marjanishvili State Academic Drama Theatre’s production of As You Like It had craftily circumnavigated part of the Globe to Globe remit: to perform “within the architecture Shakespeare wrote for”. The production’s initial conceit: a troupe of travelling players taking to their stage, and it was most definitely their stage – a raised platform in the centre of the Globe stage, complete with a diaphanous white back-drop and makeshift wings provided by travelling trunks, spewing their contents, and some niftily positioned stools – seemed like a “prosceniumizing” act; an adaptation of the Globe’s stage, that suggested, to me at least, that the production was negotiating a finely wrought balance between the festival’s implicit objectives of a multi-vocal Shakespeare which is nonetheless played in the “Globe way”, and the independence of its own production.

For its director, Levan Tsuladze, “Georgian theatre was born with Shakespeare’s plays” ( a powerful metaphor that holds Shakespeare as the biological parent to Marhanishvili’s offspring. Is there a sense, then, of a congruity, of a natural cohesion that transcends what is, for some, the Globe’s quasi-spiritual location? Perhaps. I would suggest that it was within a similar metaphorical framework that the audience saw this wonderfully inventive and playful production of As You Like It being worked into shape, of a play probing the limits of playing, and of a kind of birth of the play on the multiple stages evoked by the production.

Hyper-meta-theatrical with a strong Brechtian influence, the stage erected upon the Globe’s stage, for a play whose most oft-quoted line – “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players:” – provides the tagline not only for the production’s Globe to Globe promotion, but plays on the host theatre’s own motto – “Totus mundus agit histrionem” – instigated not just a duality of perspectives as the concepts of “off” and “on-stage”, actor and spectator, became befuddled, but a prismatic mise en abyme of stages looking at stages, actors at actors, and, given the wider considerations of the festival, of languages looking at languages, cultures at cultures, and of productions in conversation with each other, Shakespeare, and their own country’s politics.

This playfulness was reflected in the sense of orchestration from “off-stage” characters. At times, the play resembled a dress rehearsal; a concept reinforced by Nikoloz Tavadze’s Rasputin-esque Oliver gesturing to his script half-way through an already brisk performance (2 hours), to demand the interval, and by a prolonged appeal from “off-stage” characters for Ketevan Shatirishivili’s Rosalind to make her first speech, for the actor to become the character, and later, for her character to become Ganymede in quite a robust piece of cross-dressing.

The most effective of these “off-stage” incursions was the characterisation of Duke Frederick (Beso Bratashvili). Dressed in the same black as Oliver, amidst the sea of muted beiges and corals worn by the rest of the cast – save Jacques’ (Nata Murvanidze) pewter trench coat – the Duke had his lines consistently prompted by an “off-stage” actress (Manana Kozakova, later Audrey), recalling Coriolanus’ dejected simile of a “dull actor” who has forgotten his “part”. Pursued relentlessly by the “prompter” throughout the first few Acts, the Duke, on banishing Rosalind, seemed finally secure in his part, similarly banished his prompting shadow (provoking her to dolefully eat her script). The rolls of thunder accompanying this dual expulsion, the surety with which he delivered the promise of death if his edict were disobeyed, and his later order of the Orlando-manhunt were genuinely chilling; cajoling a sense of tragedy into what was a largely light and effervescent production. As Duke Frederick morphed into a Dionysian Duke Senior, the prompter returned only to be swatted away by the flower-festooned Duke: there was a sense of a comfort within “actor” and the role of Duke Senior that had been previously absent.

The gestural nature of comedy made the transmission of the text, through a Georgian lens and Globe surtitles, comparatively smooth. The slapstick physicality of some of the scenes – the milking of a stuffed sheep acting as a proxy for Audrey and Touchstone’s (Malkhaz Abuladze) sexual proclivities, and the mannequin substituted for Charles half-way through the wrestling match deserve particular mention – and the confidence of the actors in this incredibly articulate production ensured a remarkably receptive audience.  Similarly, the music, variously piped through the theatre, played live on stage through percussive drums, rain sticks, and, bizarrely, a saucepan and a ladle; the “bah bah bumming” (that’s what it sounded like to me: I am not a musician) leitmotif that accompanied the lovers; and the repeated chord of “as you like it” sung by the entire cast, added to this feeling of dramatic unity, despite the split focus dictated by the staging.

As I resist the urge to make a terrible pun, special mentions must go to the fast-talking, comically-gifted Celia (Nato Kakhidze), Onise Oniani’s foppish Le Beau, and a suitably steadfast, cross-dressed (not so sure what was going on there) Adam (Ketevan Tskhakaia), but there was nothing less than an excellent performance from the entire cast. I left the theatre thinking again about the stage(s), of the actors and their multiple “parts”, and of the production’s relationship to the festival, and was left with the feeling that perhaps the production partially defied the Jacques convention: “one man in his time” did indeed play “many parts”, but as this production demonstrated, the “stages” on which they are played are multifarious: the world isn’t the unified globe of Jacques’ speech, but rather a set of stages. I liked it.

What do you think of this interpretation of Shakespeare? Please add your thoughts to the discussion thread below!


To read more reviews of the performances and events that are a part of the World Shakespeare Festival, visit Year of Shakespeare.

Want to watch this production online? Click on the image below to watch it for free at THE SPACE:

Listen below to an interview with the director, recorded by the Globe Education Department:


Interested by this review of the play? Look below to see what others are saying about it:

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Author:Georgie Lucas

Georgie Lucas is a research student at the Shakespeare Institute.
  • livia seregon

    this is lillian under a different name the play whent very well and i dressed up as a hippi to play him is was a wonderful experience!

  • Georgie Lucas

    Thanks, RT, for your very full and engaging comments!! I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply! My point about the production’s congruity, is that, given the powerful sense of relation expressed by the director of Georgian theatre, in general, to Shakespeare, the fact that this production, in particular, has been successful outside the auspices of the festival, and that it seemed to decline (quite brilliantly) of some of the staging opportunities offered by the Globe, suggested that this performance was in some ways distinct from the Globe, and, by extension, the festival. I agree that it’s important not to over-state this point: the Globe has a certain symbolic power that can’t be dismissed, but my first impressions were that there was an autonomy to this production that seemed a bit “extra-Global”. I felt there was a something going on – and I’m not quite sure what is it, if this perception is fair, or what it means, but I think it’s interesting – between The Globe to Globe production and Marjanishvili’s production: are they one and the same?

    I agree with you that the practicalities of the festival – principally the limited stage time prior to the performance – invites pragmatic staging solutions from the companies, and perhaps, the point about the “prosceniumized” stage should be seen in this context. But, productions like Gabriel Sundukyan, National  Academic Theatre’s King John which made remarkable use (in a remarkably problematic production) of the Globe’s stage, when placed in apposition with “prosceniumized” productions like As You Like It, give a sense of the different approaches to the space and its performance potential.
    You hit on what I mean by “multi-vocal” Shakespeare when you talk about the Globe’s idea of a “festival of languages”: the festival defines Shakespeare outside of the English language, creating a platform for the play’s G/global expression. This project – Year of Shakespeare – wants to add another dimension by generating worldwide discussion on the festival.

    I am sorry to say that I did not see Chiten Theatre Company’s Coriolanus, but I am intrigued by what you say. Perhaps you’d like to take a look at, and share your thoughts on, this review: I completely agree with your last comment and would just add that, for me, part of a performance’s visual impact comes from how the actor’s body is physically expressed, how gestural and “active” it is; there’s a tendency for us to understand bodies as a common language, when a common tongue eludes us.
    Thanks so much for commenting also, Lilian! I’d be interested to hear more about your characterisation of Duke Senior and of the overall production.

    You are perfectly right, Ta Tienne: I should have put a ring on it.

  • Lillian Wilsted

    i am playing duke senior tonight at 6:30

  • TaTienne

    If you liked it, you should put a ring on it…

  • rt

    Thanks for advertising this site on the Guardian. You lose me at times ( “a congruity … a natural cohesion”) but I do like your interpretation of the script-eating. The last point makes good sense: ”
    the world isn’t the unified globe of Jacques’ speech, but rather a set of stages.” 

    Just as there were multiple stages, so the Georgians presented themselves as actors in rehearsal, characters in As You Like It – and also as people interacting with their friends. More “hyper-meta-theatrical”?
    I don’t know what you mean by “multi-vocal Shakespeare” and I’d like to. I do know what you mean by “prosceniumizing” but I wonder if you’re over-egging the point with reference to As You Like It. In truth (or rather, in my opinion), most Globe to Globe productions have prosceniumized far more than probably envisaged. Almost everything has been played straight out front. That’s where the best views are. The seats at the side and the back simply provide views of the actors’ backs and sides (bad pun intended) much of the time. If they provide any view at all. Is the Globe trying to do something between prosceniumizing and, say, the promenade productions by Bill Bryson in the Cottesloe around 30 years ago? If so, I’m not convinced it’s being achieved. The Gentlemen’s seats are just bad seats.I was amazed how something so complicated could be made to look so natural, simple and clear. How can something not just aware of its own artificiality, but never ceasing to stress it in a constant series of (on one level) 
    childish, silly effects be so touching and compelling? There wasn’t a moment of bathos. The silly wasn’t just gorgeous, it was also thought-provoking. It’s hard to stop trying to work out what it all consisted of and meant. 

    The Globe has called it a festival of language. I wonder if it’s as much a demonstration of the fear of foreign languages?! It’s an easy festival to mock and dismiss (pay to stand to listen to incomprehensible words? Never!) Foreign-language speakers are attending productions in their own languages in very varying numbers but, I would suggest, not any others. It hasn’t been a sell-out by any means. I’ve barely understood a word so far but have been surprised by how much I’m reacting to tone. The Japanese Coriolanus may provide the most extreme  uncompromising production so far of the power of tone to communicate. But for a play to succeed here for a whole audience, it has to be strongly visual. Which As You Like It was. 

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