The Marjanishvili Theatre from Tbilisi, Georgia, presents a delightful As You Like It which places the concept of ‘play’ at its centre. This trope is celebrated from the very first appearances of the players as they enter the play-world – comprising a single raised platform- to set up for the show. They display a wonder at discovering a new world as they explore the stage, hide in large trunks, open others to reveal dressing room-like pods and create percussion sounds from glasses, saucepans and the like. The notion of play fills the ‘stage’ (the raised platform) but also permeates the ‘off stage’ space (still for the viewer part of the Globe stage) and the upstage spaces, behind the central platform. These other playing areas are used throughout the performance. Here there is no reserve about upstaging the central performers on the platform, as would be found in British theatre. Instead the whole canvas is filled with differing tones and textures. In the off-stage spaces the men play chess, the women adjust their hair and make-up, at other times they watch intently, sometimes peeping over the large upturned trunks which create the backdrop to the action or share a comment on the action with their neighbour. In this sense ‘All the world’s a stage’ and the actors never stop performing their characters or projecting themselves as players throughout the performance.
As You Like It is traditionally staged as a play about the politics of the court against those of the countryside. It is also a play that is persistently tapped for the way it unsettles gender and love through disguise. Here it is none of those. The salmon-pink court world lacks any convincing substance and quickly disappears into Arden (delightfully created by air-blown silk leaves). Even Duke Frederick has little authority given that he is undermined by the off-stage prompter who feeds him his lines and turns him into a puppet leader. Gender, too, is worn lightly. Adam and Jacques are played by women and thus the increased presence of women in the ensemble creates an easiness about the playing of gender on stage since we are presented with a whole gamut of ‘femaleness’ from the cross-played older masculine characters of Adam and Jacques to the youthful femaleness of Rosaline and Celia. Love, of course, threads its way throughout the course of the evening. But it is to Jacques that the play belongs. It’s this actor that noses her way first on to the stage as the actors prepare, and Jacques whose haunting, passionate speech opens the Arden scenes. Against the fluffy love, the kitsch use of a stuffed sheep which Audrey milks, the play could easily blow away like a frothy, sweet piece of candyfloss were it not for Jacques. Here she (marked as “he”) reads not so much as a melancholic, extinguishing presence but instead seems to caution reality against the playfulness of the world we see. The integrated visual and physical theatres that we have come to expect of eastern European theatre are all here; they show how this troupe should be on the world stage.
Professor Katie Normington
Department of Drama and Theatre