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  • Title: As You Like It: Performance History
  • Author: David Bevington

  • Copyright David Bevington. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: David Bevington
    Peer Reviewed

    As You Like It: Performance History

    The Twentieth Century

    9This "realistic" vein of production continues on into the present day, especially in open-air performances in New York's Central Park, London's Regents Park, Haddington Hill Park in Oxford, the grounds of Coombe House, Kingston-upon-Thames (22 July 1884), the Boboli Gardens in Florence (as directed in Italian, Come Vi Piace, by Jacques Copeau in May, 1938, with Jean-Louis Barrault as a circus-clown Touchstone, previously in 1934 at Paris's Théâtre de l'Atalier), and still others, where lighting effects among real trees and greenswards can produce magical impressions as the light of day yields to evening. At the same time, a modern revolt against verisimilar staging was sure to take place, in the interests of interrogating a theatrical orthodoxy that placed a large premium on bucolic bliss and saccharine sentimentality. Nigel Playfair's production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1919 was so intentionally devoid of the usual scenery and costumes that many spectators were unhappy. Nugent Monck, at Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre in 1921, attempted a practical model of the unadorned Elizabethan stage, in the spirit of William Poel and the Elizabethan Stage Society. Harcourt Williams employed a wintry set in his 1932-3 production at the Old Vic with Peggy Ashcroft as Rosalind and Alastair Sim as Duke Senior; so did Glen Byam Shaw at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1952, with Margaret Leighton as Rosalind and Michael Hordern as Jaques. Esmé Church's 1936 production at the Old Vic was enlivened by an off-stage love affair between Michael Redgrave (Orlando) and Edith Evans (Rosalind). Katharine Hepburn played Rosalind in New York for 145 nights in 1950 as something of a 'new' woman. The set for Michael Elliott's 1961-2 production at Stratford-upon-Avon and then at the Aldwych in London, with Colin Blakely as Touchstone, Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind, and Rosalind Knight as Celia was dominated by the massive trunk of an oak tree, leafless as the play began. At Stratford, Connecticut, 1961, in a modern-dress production, Sir Oliver Martext entered in 3.3 on a bicycle.

    10More arrestingly, an all-male production for the National Theatre in 1967, directed by Clifford Williams with Ronald Pickup as Rosalind and Jeremy Brett as Orlando, featured a forest of Plexiglass tubes and sheets of metal screen. In this modern-art setting, designed by Ralph Koltai, Williams exploited the sexual ambiguities of cross-gendered costuming to investigate themes of identity, romantic infatuation, and power. (For other all-male productions, see Knowles, ed. AYL, 641.)

    11David Jones's Royal Shakespeare Company production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1967-8, with Dorothy Tutin and Janet Suzman as Celia (and later as Rosalind), was similarly attuned to a modern view of women's relationship to one another and to men. Edward Payson Call chose the aftermath of the American Civil War as the mise-en-scène for his production at Minneapolis's Tyrone Guthrie Theater in 1966. Plexiglas tubing appeared once more in Buzz Goodbody's 1973 RSC modern-dress production, starring Eileen Atkins as Rosalind, Bernard Lloyd and then David Suchet as Orlando, Maureen Lipman as Celia, Richard Pasco as Jaques, and Derek Smith as a music-hall and television-comedy Touchstone. At the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, in 1976, the banishment of Duke Senior and his followers to the Forest of Arden was equated with the plight of North American Indians uprooted from their native lands and exiled to colonial French Canada. Trevor Nunn produced an operatic AYL in 1977 for the RSC in Stratford set in the early seventeenth century. A 1985-6 production for the RSC by Adrian Noble employed a surreal set, devoid of trees, thus eliding the distinctions between court and country. Juliet Stevenson as Rosalind and Fiona Shaw as Celia explored a loving friendship between women in a way that was deepened by modern perceptions of gender differences.

    12More was to come. Geraldine McEwan directed AYL in 1988 for Kenneth Branagh's new Renaissance Theatre Company, with Branagh as a sleazy cockney Touchstone. Samantha Bond was a notably androgynous Rosalind in David Thacker's production for the RSC in 1992. Touchstone, in John Caird's 1990 production for the RSC, placed clown noses on most of the other characters, thereby interrogating traditional distinctions between folly and wisdom. Stephen Pimlott, in his 1996 production for the RSC with Niamh Cusack as Rosalind, made use of sheet metal boxes and pillars in aluminum and steel to suggest a thoroughly man-made forest. At the new London Globe in 1998-9, as directed by Lucy Bailey, with Anastasia Hille as Rosalind, Paul Hilton as Orlando, and David Rintoul as both dukes, a solitary tree, bare except for a few apples, was the only concession to realism on an otherwise uncluttered Elizabethan stage. Barry Edelstein's production for the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999, jazzy and improvisational in style, was notable mainly for the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind. David Bell's rollicking production for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in 2001 paid special attention to the mutually supportive friendship of Rosalind (Elizabeth Laidlaw) and Celia (Kate Fry).