As Shakespeare said, the play’s the thing, but when that play is presented in a recreation of the Second Globe Theatre, the venue is very much part of its success. Directed by Tom Mallaburn, this production of As You Like It is a joyous romp that takes full advantage of its Elizabethan-style location, creating a theatrical experience that enchants on every level.

Pop-up Globe Melbourne. Photograph © Jay Wennington

Just walking toward the Pop-up Globe is a thrill. Constructed on a rise in parkland adjacent to Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl, it has the distinctive shape of Shakespeare’s theatre, right down to the flags flying above. To step inside is to be transported; the hearts of audience members with a love of theatre, English literature or history will probably skip a beat. The scaffolding, seats and lighting are modern, but in essence this is the real deal: an apron stage, backed by a permanent set featuring balcony and doors, thrusts out into the open-air pit; three tiers of stadium seating embrace all, extending round to Tudor-esque private boxes overlooking the stage itself.

The box-dwellers, some of whom peep through gracious window frames as if part of the play, are targets for good humoured audience participation. As are the groundlings, who are almost as brightly lit as the actors and always close to the action, which sometimes takes place among them. The minstrel-jester Touchstone, played with ease and energy by Michael Mahony, is a particularly strong conduit between players and audience during a performance that, as in The Bard’s day, frequently blurs the line betwixt theatre and reality. One of the most notable, refreshing examples of this is the almost imperceptible segue out of interval, thanks to a couple of game audience members brought on stage. Some clever stand-up-comedy-style heckles on opening night added to a sense of experiencing theatre as it was 400 years ago.

Jonathan Tynan-Moss and Chris Huntly-Turner. Photograph © Jay Wennington

Back then, contemporary references would have been constant, so the Pop-up Globe players lightly pepper the performance with songs, gestures, dance moves and the odd comment that immediately resonate with an audience never more than 15 metres away. Wholehearted singalongs of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is and Titanic’s My Heart Will Go On are unexpected pleasures of this Shakespearian experience. When playing Rosalind in male disguise, the delightful Jonathan Tynan-Moss has the audience on a string with an exaggerated take on a 21st century London geezer’s accent and gestures.

Yes, this is Shakespeare right down to the all-male cast for As You Like It, which makes merry with a male actor playing a female character pretending to be a man, as well as two female roles: Stanley Andrew Jackson’s sassy Celia, and Antonio Te Maioha’s hilariously butch shepherdess – all the more funny because we see him earlier, playing up his muscular physique as the wrestler.

While there are no weak links in the cast, Stephen Butterworth’s foppish Duke Frederick, Jonathan Martin’s catty shepherd Phebus, and Adrian Hooke as the sweet but assured Orlando, are among the most memorable. As Rosalind and Celia, the rapport between Tynan-Moss and Jackson is priceless.

The costumes are Elizabethan, including colourful satin-and-lace numbers for the noblemen and voluminous skirts for the ladies. Perhaps there’s another wink to modernity in the too-short white tunic of the benevolent god who descends from the trapdoor above for the exuberant finale. The music is mostly played by the cast on-stage with string instruments, supported by trumpets and drums in that nether world behind them.

This is authentic Shakespeare at its best, so finely honed that it’s remarkable to think that Pop-up Globe was born just last year. This Melbourne season is the first beyond its Auckland home, and I confidently predict it will go on to travel the world to great acclaim. Not to be missed!

As You Like It is at the Pop-up Globe, Melbourne, until November 12, in repertory with Othello, Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing.


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