Honestly, when my students and I first started watching and critiquing this production, I didn't think I'd be able to slog my way through it. I mean, LOOK AT THOSE HATS. Seriously. I'm not certain if those hats have ever existed for women's wear outside the confines of the princess dress-up box the girls used to have in their playroom. I find them horrifying, although I've kind of become accustomed to the fact that Laurence Olivier? Big fan of the tights, he was. BIG fan.
Anyway, it got off to a bit of a slow start. But now that all the major characters have been kicked out of their homes and banished to the Forest of Arden, things have picked up a lot. I actually found myself smiling yesterday over some fun sight gags, including Elizabeth Bergner (pointy hat on the right) as Rosalind as Ganymede -- phew! -- repeatedly poking and bonking Laurence-as-Orlando about the head and neck with one of his rolled up poems.
As the kids and I discussed later, sometimes you can get a pleasant surprise. A book, a movie, a play that is a slow-starter can all of a sudden develop a bit of a shine. I'm glad to say that this production, which was directed by Paul Czinner and released in 1937 by Twentieth Century Fox studios, has done just that. And that's saying something, since I'm a purist who generally disapproves of Shakespeare's scripts being hacked and chopped with a heavy hand: this should-be-about-150-minute play was reduced to something like ninety-five minutes. That's a lot of cutting!
Not so much for the BBC version. It was made for television, which should sound a dire warning knell in your head. It sure did in mine, "made-for-TV" being synonymous with "crummy production values and wooden acting on an extremely limited budget." This version of As You Like It, released several years ago by Ambrose Video as part of a VERY EXPENSIVE SET of Shakespearean comedies, is just....the pits. I don't know how else to describe it. It was directed by Basil Coleman and released in Great Britain in 1978 and it's just a sad, lackluster little production. Even lovely Helen Mirren can't do much to save it, although the actor playing Corin (David Lloyd Meredith) had a little oomph to him. And Angharad Rees as Celia is just a cutie pie, although I don't think that she and Helen Mirren were given nearly enough of a chance to express their girlish goofy fun.
For the first time yesterday, Orlando (Brian Stirner) finally cracked a smile and gave poor Helen something to actually work with. Up until that point, he's gone around either with an expressionless face or with a furrowed brow. I keep looking for some spark of life in the man, since he's playing such a dashing hero, but what I keep getting is that he really has to poop and is inwardly wondering how long it will be before the director calls out, "Cut!!! Everybody take five!"
All this makes me hungry for two things:
1) Watching the Kenneth Branagh version of As You Like It in two weeks with the class, and;
2) Going to Stratford and seeing the play performed live onstage at the Festival Theater...I can hardly wait. No matter how good a filmed production is, the energy of live theater is a whole different animal. Plus, we have, like, the MOST AWESOME seats for the performance. And, heaven be thanked, it is not a freaking student matinee, so that what's going on onstage is completely eclipsed by what's going on in the audience, with the cell phones and the constant talking and the wadding up pages from the playbill and lobbing them over the balcony every time the house lights go down. Never. Again. Ever.
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