Rollicking good fun – that’s what you can expect at Popup Globe’s season of Shakespeare’s comedic play As You Like It at the King’s Domain, next to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. The works of the Bard have certainly been entertaining theatre (and film) audiences for more than 400 years but the 2016 inspiration of two Kiwis, Dr Miles Gregory and Tobias Grant, to return his work to its original space for Southern hemisphere fans seems like a no brainer that should have happened a lot earlier.

When walking up to the actual theatre you cannot help but marvel at this temporary towering structure in all its 3D beautiful glory. It certainly makes you feel like you are entering the hallowed turf of Shakespeare’s 17th century base – though a lot cleaner thankfully! Based on the second Globe (the first burnt down in 1613), its intimate size can house up to 1000 patrons both in the groundling standing room surrounding the stage (that is nicely carpeted and not the dirt of old!) or in straight up tiered circular stands with cushioned bench seats. The stage itself is left bare with a number of wooden doors, windows, and balconies along the back wall, with three sets of steps along the front of the stage that allows for a variety of exits and entrances. On either side of the stage are two mighty columns which support the partial roof structure and allow for a dramatic high rise entrance later in the show.  By going ultra minimalist with the set, it allows the sole focus to be on the actors and their sumptuous costumes designed by Bob Capocci and her team that perfectly capture the time period. Capocci’s careful research into the fashions, patterns and costume embellishments of the Elizabethan era allow the clothing to become part of the story and set, and thankfully don’t hinder the actors in movement, instead allowing their own individual personalities to shine through. Perhaps the most lavish and stunning was Celia’s courtly dress worn so gorgeously by Stanley Andrew Jackson III as he flounced around the stage in pure delight swishing his skirts ever so dramatically.

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As You Like It was written in 1599 (yet is set here sometime later say the 1640s) and focuses on love, jealousy, freedom, and mistaken or hidden identities and gender. UK born director Tom Mallaburn has adapted the script to contain all the best parts of the comedy, the well known lines and actions and given it a shake and a stir to include some funny modern references for a 2.5 hour stylish extravaganza (including interval). Getting Aussie audiences to interact early like Globe patrons typically would is critical and Michael Mahony in the role of the court clown Touchstone was a brilliant choice in casting and achieving this aim. His opening song about turning off mobile phones light-heartedly gave the right message, and throughout the show his energy and humour was infectious, as well as his excellent musical ability. This opener lead into a fantastically colourful and action packed scene introducing the perfectly pompous Oliver (James Haxby) chastising his brother, the dashing hero of the play, Orlando (Adrian Hooke) with sidekick Adam (Barry deLore, whose physicality and knockabout accidents were hilarious throughout the show). Enter the dastardly villains led by Duke Frederick (Stephen Frederick, who shone with fantastic pomp and dramatic flair in this role from start to finish) as we learn Frederick has usurped his brother Duke Senior (Paul English) and forced him to flee to the forest. The physically imposing wrestler Charles (Antonio Te Maioha) is conned to fight on behalf of cowardly Oliver and the audience showed great delight in counting his chin ups and press ups as he prepares for the duel with Orlando. The cheerleading pompom routines were a stroke of genius, adding colour and vitality. Credit also to fight director, Alexander James Holloway, who made the duels seem realistic yet playful that easily encouraged the audience to cheer with Orlando’s attempts and boo /hiss at Charles’ victorious beating.

Indeed, the use of the stage in the court scenes particularly were most cleverly blocked – keeping the action always evolving, making the most of the upstage and downstage space, and even out through the audience and up to the top tiers.

The main plot of the play then comes into focus as we see the budding romance between Orlando (Hooke) and Rosalind (played giftedly by Jonathan Tynan-Moss and whose casting is in line with males playing female roles back in Elizabethan England times). After advice he is in danger, Orlando escapes to the forest which was simply and smartly depicted by cloth wrapping around the columns to symbolise the trees. At the same time Rosalind is banished by Duke Frederick but is kindly accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone. To keep them safe Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede and Celia dresses as a lowly shepherdess. Of course, in typical Bard trickery and matchups, Orlando meets Ganymede and a new friendship forms. The cris-cross gendering and mistaken passions rises through with lots of clever antics and witty asides. These romantic match ups were enhanced by musician Oscar West shrewdly playing a trance like tune on his flute as each pair went to kiss and worked fabulously each and every time until the very end. Orlando’s love notes that started as the spoken words of Bieber’s “You’re Beautiful” were amusingly appreciated, and the “My Heart Will Go On” ode later on injected the play with musical verve and gusto. Hooke, Tynan-Moss and Jackson all individually and together were simply outstanding as a masterclass example of ensemble Shakespeare acting; impressing with their movement and delivery, presenting authentic characters of depth, and perfectly playing to the audience with witty asides that allowed us to follow the story and jokes with ease and pleasure. In addition, Tynan-Moss’ coy antics as Rosalind and outrageously suitable overplaying as Ganymede with male rapper vibes were sensational – especially as he grapples with the confusion and doubt if Orlando’s love for Rosalind is true or not. These three leads, along with the rest of the cast, have obviously worked tirelessly and exceptionally well with director Mallaburn, to consider how every line should physically present itself not just read silently; every joke is squeezed out as it should, double entendres seep out wherever possible and this is how good old William would have wanted it!

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Moving into the second act after interval, Te Maioha showed his range to not just be the gorgeous dueller Charles, but also the ‘pretty’ shepherd girl Audrey who, with the help of Touchstone, coerced two cooperative audience members for a short goat milking session – most entertaining.  The only lulls in the play happened during the forest scenes on two occasions; the first seemed due perhaps to the weaker projection of shepherd boy Silvius (George Kemp) which meant his witty asides got lost at times. Though his facial gestures at being in love with the cruel shepherdess Phoebe (also played by a male actor Jonathon Martin, and named as Phebus) especially in the final third of the play were amusingly appealing. The second moment where the pace and zest seemed to drop was the exchanges involving Duke Senior and Jacques (Stephen Papps). Admittedly, these roles and sections are more serious than the others but overall the drag in energy was felt in the stalls but rose again with the herding of three sheep and movement into the final confrontation and reconciliation scenes. Martin revelled in the role of Phebus and added comic depth to being in love with Ganymede (aka Rosalind) right until the very end. His rendition of “I want to know what love is” was side splittingly funny. The play ends as it should – lots of pairing off, happy reunions and the hero and heroine / hero ending up together with a song and dance – it was a fitting finish to a thoroughly entertaining show. The epilogue performed fittingly by Tynan-Moss who strips himself down and casts off the wig reminds the audience that life is complex, as the blurring between the real and the fantasy stories shows– something that Shakespeare always does well in many of his plays. Tynan-Moss signals that these crossing boundaries also show that joy should prevail and that love is love. It seemed that the epilogue was almost going to timely link to the current marriage equality debates and plebiscite – it didn’t, but did bring it appropriately to mind, especially for those voting yes.

Just a quick note on the practical side of the theatrical experience; there is a 50 page full colour programme available for purchase, full of historical content, information on the planning to create this touring show, interviews with the costumiers & directors, as well as cast bios. It’s definitely worth the price. The whole production experience allows you to buy yummy food and drinks from food truck vans outside the venue to take in, plenty of toilets (not porta-loos thank goodness), and roving musical minstrels during interval that included a witty Waltzing Matilda tribute. Do be mindful that the partial roof cover means if you are a groundling you may want to bring a light coat if there is expected showers/drizzle. For those planning to buy season tickets to all four shows (the other three are Henry V, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing) it may interest you to know that Artistic Director Dr Miles Gregory is committed to ensemble colour blind repertory theatre where all actors are equal (no stars here!) and where one company of actors creates two productions (ie the Queen’s company that performs As You Like It will later be seen in the more dramatic Henry V).

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As You Like It is an exciting spectacle – perfect for Bard fans or those new and unsure of whether they can deal with all that old England language. Go along, get involved, have a laugh and enjoy the theatrical display. I know you will.