This is an edited version of a document prepared in November 2011, prior to starting work on the project.
Like Me is, simply, As You Like It without the politics, the explicitly philosophical debates or the ‘clowns.’ In other words, it focuses squarely on the six ‘kids’ – Rosie, Cecelia, Orlando, Oliver, Silvius and Phoebe – and takes them to a farm out near Dubbo for a couple of days, long weekend maybe, and throws them all in it together. Over the course of the long weekend, relationships develop and blossom, truths are learnt, feelings made known and affections made clear. In the end, though, who gets who? It’s not as simple as it once seemed, not now anyway.
Before the film starts, Rosie is in a fight at school with Charlie who said she was a guy. (We may or may not see this). So she and Charlie were suspended, as was Cecelia by association. Four friends – Rosie, Cecelia (Cee), and their friends Oliver and Orlando (Oliver’s brother) – had long planned to go on a road trip together, and now that the long weekend is upon them, now seems as good a time as ever to get away and find themselves, discover each other. Silvius and Phoebe are also invited along for good measure; the more the merrier, or so they say.
As we meet them – Rosie and Cee, then Orlando, Oliver, Silvius and Phoebe (arguing, lost) – they find themselves on
Orlando’s family farm, a slowly shrinking
sheep run still pulling itself out of the recent drought. Besides the sheep,
there is a forest that runs down and along the border of the farm and it seems
the perfect location to set up camp… To paraphrase Chekhov, ‘it’s a comedy – three women’s parts, three
men’s – and is set in a forest (on a sheep farm) with a great deal of
conversation about Being and relationships, and five tons of love.’
As You Like It is a bit of a cornucopic delight, in that it has everything Shakespeare has to offer – political intrigue and danger, love, mistaken identity and/or disguise, a smattering of philosophy, songs, and the kind of whimsy and mad-logic that he specializes in. In many ways, it’s not so much concerned with a complex plot, or a plot’s complexities (as is, say, Hamlet or Twelfth Night), but rather the interactions between characters, and the ways in which these interactions explore the play’s themes and issues including, but not limited to, Love. I want to go to the wide open spaces, to run through the long grass “with the wind in my hair, the sand at my feet” – or so the song goes; I want to feel the golden summers against my skin, sit in the shade of the greenwood trees, see the light of dawn and dusk and the flawless blue skies, see the burnished glow of mystery in the trees and the dancing will-o-th’-wisp light of a campfire… I want to make an Australian Shakespeare pastoral-romance to prove it can be done.
In performance, the play – when performed in its splendiferous entirety – positively sparkles and crackles with a diffused wit and gentle warmth that is incredibly hard not to enjoy. But there are, as in most of his plays, hurdles, in particular the characters of Touchstone and Jacques, and also the language itself. Like Hamlet says to the Players, one must work to make the speech seem natural, improvised, spontaneous, otherwise it’s no fun for anyone if lines are just learnt by rote and declaimed or recited. Having said that, I don’t really want to use Shakespeare’s dialogue in this version, but rather keep the spirit of it and the play intact, and ‘improvise’ around it, inserting choice phrases where the occasion suits.
Even though the play is a musical one – as in having more songs than any other Shakespeare play – I don’t want to turn this into a musical, a la Moulin Rouge! or Singin’ In The Rain. I’m interested in having one or two characters/actors being able to play instruments – acoustic guitar, harmonica perhaps – and diegetically incorporate it into the scenes as naturally as possible, as love songs, a carouse around the campfire, and general music-making that happens along the way.
The whole point of this exercise is not to modernise the story or Australianise it to the point of cultural cringe or to the detriment of Shakespeare’s original text; the idea is to take Shakespeare’s play, his language, his characters and his scenarios, and apply them to a group of six modern Australian kids (17 or 18 year olds) and see what happens. Names can be changed, sexual orientations are no longer fixed, certain or given, and neither are genders – just because a character is written as male doesn’t mean they stay that way.
Talking to Liz, my co-creator and -realiser, we both agree that it’d be really interesting to get a transgender character in there, played entirely straight and “with no farce beyond that of them gender-bending from that point, i.e. trans-girl dresses as boy &c.” And that’s the thing: the play already does it, albeit not-quite-unintentionally, plays the gender-bending angle, and plays it straight, just as I want to. Shakespeare did it brilliantly back in the 1590s (under and within different socio-cultural constraints), so I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t stop or change it now.
To compound upon this, I don’t necessarily want the ending to be clean-cut hetero-pairing; if it is at all possible in the final realization, it’d be interesting to see if Rosie could not go with a guy, but with a girl and see whether it changes or adds anything. And Rosie in disguise (i.e. as ‘Ganymede’) should not be played as an exaggeration; she should just be played as herself in men’s clothing – playing the gender-bending angle, but playing it straight. Because “As You Like It …is not about sexuality – hetero-, homo-, bi- or trans- – but about love, which transcends sexuality and includes it.” (Hodgdon: 2002, 194)
John Bell believes that “Shakespeare is much wilder and freer than anything you can shoehorn into a particular period,” which is why anything is possible in Shakespeare. I don’t like the almost-sacredness that surrounds Shakespeare at times, the reverence that people seem to have which prevents radical and different interpretations (Benedict Andrews’ falling confetti notwithstanding); “if you’re going to make your mark, you want to knock [the plays] around a bit. But it should come out of a love for these plays, not contempt. You want to shake the dust off, not wreck them,” John Bell concludes. (Blake: 2011, 7)
That said, there is one important obstacle with this conceptualization. Shakespeare’s play works so well because you’re always on the move between types of people; it’s like you’re watching a film and you’re always cutting between locations or groups of people, and sometimes they mix but it’s not common, only when a point wants/needs to be made. And that’s the thing – half the play is concerned with love, while the other half is a kind of philosophical ramble, largely on the part of Jacques, the melancholic ‘fool.’ (Rosalind has her fair share of philosophical pondering, but it’s pretty much always in conversation with someone.) So the question is, do I cut Jacques and Touchstone and all the foresters for better or worse and incorporate the feel of their lines in with the kids, or do I have them come on as workers on the farm, as observers outside the kids’ sphere?
For me, personally, the character of Rosalind is pretty much one of the best – if not, The Best – characters that Shakespeare ever wrote. She’s kind of like the girlfriend or boyfriend we all wished we could meet, in that she not only falls for a person but she doubts the very feelings and questions their veracity; no sooner has she met the person she has fallen for does she pretend to be someone else, and through the course of the play – by role-playing her love for the guy with the guy himself – she comes to know more about love, comes to know herself better and thus decides that she really does love the boy in question. Ergo, she finds herself through her disguise.
I think Rosalind is kind of a substitute for Shakespeare – at least in As You Like It – and is also the stage manager, orchestrating deceits and happenings, making sure everything happens to a schedule or plan, and making sure everything works out in the end, in that marvelously life-affirmingly Shakespearean way.
I don’t think it’s totally necessary for Rosalind to play the ‘male’ character of Ganymede as a male, that is to conform to the stereotype of male actions and attributes. It’s not necessary to point out to an audience ‘look, I’m in disguise. I must act as a man now’; it’s not that at all. The whole point of her disguise is so that
may believe she is a man at first, but as he gets to know her and her him, the
disguise falters slightly and her true self becomes apparent. Orlando
…Rosalind is part waif, part tomboy, a naïve, gawky girl who can mug and fool, tickle an irritating friend, but also play purposeful games when the time comes. With that bewildered heart-throb Orlando, you feel she is testing the sexual waters, readying herself for a plunge that may one day end her, as she claims, ‘fathoms deep in love’…
[The Times (
1990] (in Shakespeare: 2010, 139) London
Part of the attraction to Rosalind for me comes from the way that she is so completely in control of everything, yet is so completely not simultaneously; she is altogether the stage manager and love’s pawn, moving others around a chessboard before she herself is moved. In this way, I believe Rosalind to be a substitute for Shakespeare who, as an actor, playwright and shareholder in the Globe theatre, knew more about life in all its multitudinous guises than anyone before or since. “Let it suffice to affirm that no one else in the plays, not even Falstaff or Hamlet, represents Shakespeare’s own stand towards human nature so fully as Rosalind does. If we can point to his unshadowed ideal then it must be to Rosalind. His ironies, which are Rosalind’s, are subtler and more capacious than ours, and more humane also.” (Bloom: 1998, 209)
In this vein is also my first real encounter with Rosalind, at least as a performance. Kenneth Branagh filmed As You Like It for the BBC and HBO in 2006 (and it is, in my opinion, his best Shakespeare-film), and cast Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind. I think, in many ways, she is ‘my’ Rosalind, just as people talk of ‘their’ Doctor [Who]: she’s smart, witty, cute, sexy, believably boyish at the same time as being undoubtedly feminine, and she has a confidence and naturalism about her that makes you just kind of fall in love with her, as you’re meant to. “The naturalness, the unforced understanding of her playing, the passionate, breathless conviction of it, the depth of feeling and the breadth of reality – this is not acting at all, but living, being, loving…” (Shakespeare: 2010, 133)
There’s more to ‘being’ a boy or man than the clothes and the mannerisms; even though, as in Hamlet, “the clothes maketh the man,” they can only help so far. What you’ve got to do is think like a man, and the rest of the body will follow, or so the adage goes. In the case of Rosalind, she’s trying to find herself within ‘Ganymede’ at the same that
is finding his true Rosalind in Rosalind-as-Ganymede-as-Rosalind. Orlando
Harold Bloom, a critic whose book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is something akin to a bible in Shakespeareanism, asks “when Ganymede plays Rosalind in order to rehearse
in life and love, are we to assume that her lover does not recognize her? Aside
from straining credulity, it would be an aesthetic loss if Orlando were not fully aware of the charm of
his situation.” (Bloom: 1998, 221)
Personally, I’m in two minds about this. Initially, when Orlando and Rosalind-as-Ganymede meet in the forest, I think he doesn’t recognise her, or at least not initially; he sees her as a boy, or a rather feminine boy who he is capable of believing is his Rosalind. If he did know her to be Rosalind in the first, you wouldn’t have a lot of the beautiful sparring and whimsical exchanges they share. But as the play progresses, I do think he becomes aware of the fact, that he can see through her disguise, no matter how good her act is or how good the disguise is. However: as Orlando and Rosalind-as-Ganymede enter the final scene [5.4], I do think he is aware of who she is (and the text supports this), otherwise the magic is lost and Orlando is not only behind the audience who have been complicit in the disguise from the first, but is also not worthy of Rosalind’s affection, love and future; if he doesn’t know who she is by the end of the play, he is not her equal, and therefore the whole play has been a waste. The view that I subscribe to is that Rosalind’s act falters enough in the ‘bloody handkerchief’ scene [4.3]; when Oliver picks her up after she “counterfeited to swoon,” he discovers who she is through the simple act of physical contact, and he tells Orlando, whose suspicions – assumptions – are confirmed; consequently, he plays along with her when she talks of knowing a magician “since I was three year old,” and talks of being able to produce his Rosalind tomorrow, “should ever I marry man, and I will be married tomorrow.”
At the end, at the various weddings – or, in this version, the partings and journey back to the city – I think Orlando should be acting his surprise and annoyance at being duped by Rosalind, kind of getting his own back at her, if you will; then and only then, do they know they are compatible for – with – each other, and that the play’s events have not been for nothing.
If Rosalind cannot please us, then no one in Shakespeare or elsewhere in literature ever will. I love Falstaff and Hamlet and Cleopatra as dramatic and literary characters, but would not want to encounter them in actuality; yet falling in love with Rosalind always makes me wish that she existed in our subliterary realm. (Bloom: 1998, 204)
There is no way to conclude this, and I have tried; like Life, it just keeps going and going and going. I could quote critics and theorists until my heart is content, but that won’t do anything apart from show how many crazy theorists I’ve read, digested and assimilated into my view of the play, how many books and articles I’ve read on the subject.
The issue at the heart of As You Like It is the idea of playing, the act of playing, the ‘le jeu’ that Jacques Lecoq talks about (thank you Year 12 Drama). Unlike Viola-Cesario in Twelfth Night (her counterpart), Rosalind-as-Ganymede is the play, (Hodgdon : 2002, 190) and the whole issue – game, question, theme, crux – is right there in the title: As You Like It. ‘It’ implies that some people may like the same things but in different ways. There are and should be no judgements on what you like, nor nothing to found them on. As she suggests in the Epilogue, “ladies may like it (‘it’ being, ostensibly, the play) in a different way from men.” (Rosenbaum : 2006, 498) (And ‘it’ being Shakespeare, nothing ever has just one ‘straight’ meaning.)
Ultimately, Rosalind’s – and, indeed, the play’s – power comes from how believable a boy she is (not necessarily how convincing her disguise is, either to the audience and or Orlando), and whether or not (and to what extent) you fall for her, either as Rosalind or as Rosalind-as-Ganymede. I for one well and truly did. And it – she, that; it – is just as I like it.
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