Ellen McDougall’s As You Like It arrives at the Globe with deserved fanfare for its refreshing queer take on the material, and whilst it is a lot of fun and very funny in places, it falls somewhat short of the visual spectacle required to etch itself indelibly in memory.
Where it soars is in its performances.
Nina Bowers expertly dials up Rosalind. Her performance is an extravaganza of bravado, physicality, playfulness, and pitch-perfect delivery. Likewise, Isabel Adomakoh as Orlando matches Bower’s range but brings her own sensuality and warmth. Both lift the show whenever they are on stage.
Not far behind them is a Molotov cocktail of energies: Tonderai Munyevu’s fabulously regal Duke Senior embraces the role and the spirit of the show as if he truly were embracing the Arden community; Emmanuel Akwafo is electrifying as Amiens; and Alex Austin’s Jacques plays the role with just the right amount of Gen-Z angst and mirth to feel like he is the most radical and modern twist on the material, even if his big “all the world’s a stage” speech feels slightly underwhelming.
However, were it not for their zest, the Forest of Arden would be a far duller place because it neither looks nor feels particularly magical. Save for the sumptuous stylings of Max Johns, there isn’t enough to really transport you or trick you into thinking this is a radical refreshing of the material.
Sure, there are musical numbers that merge original music with well-known pop hits from artists like Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, and Bruno Mars, but they aren’t sung particularly well (which rather annoyingly feels deliberate), and they feel slightly at odds with the production because they would surely benefit from a bit more dynamism, even if the audience does seem to clap along to them.
While metaphors of inclusivity and belonging land beautifully and respectful nods to drag and queer culture are both charming and brave, they feel underserved by a lack of audacity and awe.
This production can’t be faulted for trying something, but perhaps if it had swung for the trees just a little more, it would’ve felt more like a memorable summer romance rather than a fleeting fling.