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” (http://globetoglobe.shakespearesglobe.com/plays/as-you-like-it/interview): 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.
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