If the words ‘Shakespeare at twilight’ spawn visions of some sci-fi horror abomination a la ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’, then have no fear, because Hamletscenen’s mini Shakespeare festival at Kronborg Castle this month was the real deal – with one of the oldest and most prestigious Shakespeare companies in the world putting on a version of ‘As You Like It’ to please both Billy purists and novices.
It is believed that after the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed for Denmark’s King Frederik II at Kronborg in 1580, one of its performers, a certain Will Shakespeare, was inspired to use the castle as a home for his most famous angst-ridden protagonist prince. So what better setting to host what is considered to be the world’s oldest authentic Shakespeare tradition, than Hamlet’s own courtyard?
Encircled by Kronborg’s castle walls and the sparse open-air staging that mirrors the original Globe Theatre in London – the feeling is truly one of Shakespearean safari – the only thing missing is Lawrence Olivier’s bleached head peeking out from a stained glass window.
As the sold-out audience quietens and the players launch full steam ahead into song, one actor takes a dramatic headlong tumble from the scaffolding (which left this reviewer unceremoniously chuckling – it’s a comedy after all!). Despite the interruption, the cast champion on with undeterred energy after only a short interval.
‘As You Like It’ follows the most traditional of Shakespearean comedic formulas: lads and lassies of the court fall madly in love, prance around in the forest while engaging in a few cases of mistaken identity and cross-dressing, and then everybody gets married at the end. Yet director James Decre manages to breathe new life into the production with the help of a sterling cast and some hilarious modernisations, while staying true to the traditional format.
Following a wrestling match that could have been lifted straight out of a Bridget Jones film, fair Rosalind falls in love with the brooding Orlando. Soon after, she is banished from the court by her evil, usurping uncle, but luckily there’s a tenement of exiled noblemen shacking up in the forest of Arden. Rosalind and cousin/BFF Celia don disguises, and with their entry to the forest begins all kinds of confusion and comedic happenings.
With the exception of Orlando, Rosalind and Celia, the rest of the cast take on multiple characters (and accents), with character shifts happening as quickly as a costume change will allow – ultimately culminating in the hilarious and schizophrenic merging of two very mismatched characters. Interlaced between the fast-paced, dialogue-heavy scenes, Dacre allows for slow, wistful musical numbers in which the cast act as both choir and band, many of them playing up to three different instruments.
With the multifarious cross-dressing of both female and male actors, we harken back to the Shakespearean days when male actors would play women who would pretend to be men. Dacre celebrates this gender confusion by casting a woman as the melancholy Jaques, played by a brilliant Emma Pallant, who delivers the only serious, if not most poignant, portion of the evening – the ‘seven ages of man’ soliloquy, which is a lament on the fragility and cruel cyclicality of life – all while a flock of seagulls pass noisily by overhead.
It is in the mixing of the traditional and the innovative where this production soars. The blank verse is beautifully recited with wily innuendos, while the orthodox gender jokes are speckled with modern poignancy.
The only real criticism must go to the Danish climate – a bit too unaccommodating for a four-hour evening performance!
Shakespeares Globe’s production of ‘As You Like It’ played at Kronborg Castle from August 1-5 as part of a mini Shakespeare season organised by Hamletscenen.
As You Like It