Even by the standards of Shakespearean comedy, As You Like It tests theatrical logic. Unlike other Shakespearean comedies, comic closure is not compromised by pain, punishment or death; nor does the play returns its characters and audiences to a 'real' world in which the fantastic may be put to the test. This book focuses on the performance of As You Like It in the twentieth century. It offers a summary of the prehistory that provides its background and context. The book examines the play as a text for performance on the early modern stage. It is examined not by conjecturally reconstructing a performance that may or may not have taken place, but by mining the script for clues as to how it might have been handled by its first players. It pays particular attention to three contrasting RSC productions: Michael Elliott's of 1961, which launched Vanessa Redgrave's legendary, epoch-defining Rosalind; Buzz Goodbody's of 1973, and Adrian Noble's of 1985. The book addresses two productions beyond the English (and English-speaking) theatre context. The first of these, seen at l'Atelier in Paris in 1934, is Jacques Copeau's redaction Rosalinde; the second Peter Stein's monumental four-hour production for the Schaubühne Berlin in 1977. It focuses on two all-male versions of the play: Clifford Williams's for the National Theatre in 1967, and Declan Donnellan's for Cheek by Jowl in 1991 and 1994. The book draws substantially upon the first-hand audience experience of a recent production, Blanche McIntyre's for Shakespeare's Globe in 2015.
In 1973, Buzz Goodbody made her main-stage solo directorial debut with a production of As You Like It that was led by Eileen Atkins as Rosalind and Richard Pasco as Jaques. In what has become a familiar tactic in productions of this play, the strict, tightly-buttoned formality of the court scenes lent them a vaguely Edwardian than contemporary flavour, while the move to Arden released the lords and lovers into easy-going, casual-contemporary style. This was evident in the most remarked-upon of the production's costume decisions, its liberal use of denim. The programme for the As You Like It concisely articulated both the production's and the RSC's position in the 1980s theatrical marketplace. Twelve years later, the scene would be given a more pointedly metaphorical colouring in Adrian Noble's production, which was led by Juliet Stevenson as Rosalind, Fiona Shaw as Celia and Alan Rickman as Jaques.
The world première of Paul Czinner's As You Like It at the Carlton cinema in London's Haymarket on Thursday, 3 September, 1936 was, by the standards of the time, quite an occasion. The attack on Czinner's As You Like It for being insufficiently cinematic allegedly finds confirmation in the reactions of contemporary reviewers. According to Cedric Messina, the initiator of the BBC/Time-Life Television Shakespeare and producer of its first and second series, As You Like It has the distinction of being the play that served as inspiration for the entire enterprise. The meanings of Coleman's As You Like It are, of course, not confined to its first broadcast and the response of its first audience is, equally, far from definitive. But, as with Czinner's version, paying attention to that response and its circumstances is a way of allowing the production its historical due.
In the second week of October 1934, the city of Paris saw the première of two productions of As You Like It. Both had been eagerly anticipated, though for very different reasons. This chapter addresses two productions beyond the English (and English-speaking) theatre context. The first of these, seen at l'Atelier in Paris in 1934, is Jacques Copeau's redaction Rosalinde; the second is Peter Stein's monumental four-hour production for the Schaubühne Berlin in 1977. The latter, described by Dennis Kennedy as 'one of Stein's greatest productions' (Kennedy 261), and was a landmark in the history of European Shakespeare. It is also one deeply embedded in the politics and history of its troubled times. Rosalinde marked the return to the Parisian stage of a figure who had been at the forefront of theatrical reform in the second decade of the twentieth century, and who had directed two acclaimed Shakespeare productions.
This chapter focuses on two all-male versions of the play: Clifford Williams's for the National Theatre in 1967, and Declan Donnellan's for Cheek by Jowl in 1991 and 1994. If it goes without saying that As You Like It has, throughout its performance history, been implicated in questions of sexual and gender identity. These productions particularly foreground issues of transvestite masquerade and same-sex desire that the tradition of female Rosalinds has largely occluded. Reflecting on the production two decades after it was made, director Declan Donnellan recalled its historic and political context. For Donnellan, the central point was to invite the audience 'to tread a tightrope of willed belief, a quintessentially theatrical act of faith'. Inverting Brechtian logic, the director stated that [e]xposing the nuts and bolts of theatre actually makes you more involved in the play.
The Folio As You Like It is a document whose relation to original conditions and circumstances of performance within, possibly, at least three settings - court, public playhouse, private theatre - is at best uncertain. It offers some violent physical action, a sharp-witted clown with one foot firmly in the playhouse, a good deal of singing, and the recycling of a number of devices used by Shakespeare in previous romantic comedies. These include a structural division between court and country, a green world, and, driving the play's action, a voluble, witty and resourceful cross-dressed heroine. This chapter considers how the task might have been carried out within the frameworks of rehearsal and repertory. In order to situate Rosalind's role within the larger part-based ecology of playhouse rehearsal and performance practice, one needs to acknowledge the broader early modern context of part-based playmaking.
As You Like It reappeared in 1920 and at regular intervals thereafter, but the stag did not, and Playfair's theatrical modernism became part of the mainstream of staging practice at Stratford, as it did elsewhere. The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald insisted that 'it has been said a thousand times before: we know exactly where we are with As You Like It. For all its thin veneer of disguise, the Forest of Arden is rural Warwickshire, and the snake and hungry lioness but escapees from a passing circus. Once in the forest we are in Shakespeare's own country, where the purest of love reigns' (7 July). For some, though, this was an Arden in which the prospect of picnics was not untouched by the more troubling aspects of rural life, manifested most obviously in a staging of 4.2.
During a run of 51 performances that began on 15 May and ended on 5 September, the Globe As You Like It would have been seen by up to 50,000 men, women and children. For some, this might have been their first, last or only encounter with the play, with the theatre or with Shakespeare. For others, it might have been their fifth or fiftieth. But for all of them, for all of us, As You Like It will occupy a greater or lesser place in the ongoing, and for the time being unfinished, narratives of our lives. The Shakespeare and the theatre establishments are out in force today and later we find ourselves in an oak-panelled room at Court Lodge with Paul Edmondson, Stanley Wells, Paul Prescott and Michael Dobson. Paul and the author swap impressions of the Globe production, and the conversation turns to As You Like It.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts covered in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on the performance of As You Like It in the twentieth century. It examines the play as a text for performance on the early modern stage. The book examines the long history of As You Like It at Stratford, which pay particular attention to three contrasting RSC productions. It addresses two productions beyond the English (and English-speaking) theatre context. The first of these, seen at l'Atelier in Paris in 1934, is Jacques Copeau's redaction Rosalinde; the second Peter Stein's monumental four-hour production for the Schaubühne Berlin in 1977. The latter, described by Dennis Kennedy as 'one of Stein's greatest productions' (Kennedy 261), was a landmark in the history of European Shakespeare. It is also one deeply embedded in the politics and history of its troubled times.