Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 26 August 2018
After Emma Rice’s promises to ‘rock the ground’ found little purchase with the board at Shakespeare’s Globe, it’s fair to say there have been a few people holding their breath with incoming artistic director Michelle Terry’s debut season about to start. One of our finest Shakespeareans, she’s placed the actor at the heart of her programming, which opens with the Globe Ensemble performing As You Like It and Hamlet in rep.
And not to belabour the point, but the difference does feel like the gap between someone who sees Shakespeare as a challenge and someone who sees it an opportunity. Terry’s approach may be less ostentatious but it feels no less quietly radical in flexibility to gender, race, disability and more. Across the two productions it provides some blissful and thought-provoking moments that feel quietly revolutionary.
An early scene in Hamlet which sees Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus together who are all incidentally played by women (as soul-stirring a Bechdel moment as any), the way in which BSL is fully integrated into both plays and performances (there’s something gorgeous about how effortlessly Nadia Nadarajah’s Celia has the audience in stitches with sign language), the way in which designer Ellan Parry’s costumes have a timeless, transformative progression that is beautiful to look at (that embroidery!) but also intelligently matched to the character interpretations here.
For me, it was details like these that stood out most as truth be told, it isn’t the most exciting version of Hamlet you’ll ever see, despite Terry’s striking take on the title role and her mastery of the space (sod sitting down, get a groundling ticket and elbow your way to the front to have ‘To be or not to be’ delivered directly to you. swoon!). Co-directors Federay Holmes and Elle While have much more success with a joyous As You Like It, Jack Laskey’s Rosalind and Bettrys Jones’ Orlando well matched, Helen Schlesinger having a ball as the Dukes and James Garnon living his best life as Audrey. (Oh, and Pearce Quigley just being ace as ever.)
A strong opening gambit then from Terry, and one which makes me quietly excited for her tenure as she further explores how inclusive Shakespeare can be for audiences both old and new.