How could I have forgotten that David Prowse (Darth Vader; Green Cross Man) played Charles the Wrestler in the 1978 BBC adaptation of “As You Like It”?
When I suddenly saw the hulking frame that filled out the Darth Vader suit, and heard that same soft west country burr that first told me how to cross the road as a child, heard it suddenly in conversation with the villainous Oliver, my first sense of was of recollection. Surely I knew this? Surely I knew he was in it. But then again, who could possibly ever know this, and then not know it? Who could ever forget that they ever knew it? Me, apparently. Which is an alarming sign.
Angels and ministers of grace preserve us, but David Prowse really is enormous, isn’t he? And despite the best efforts of a skilled fight director, the actual process whereby Orlando (played by the slender Brian Stirner) actually defeats Darth Vader in the wrestling ring, feels somewhat… implausible.
Of course, it’s an implausible play. The miracle of As You Like It is that it’s pastoral and anti-pastoral at the same time, miraculous and hard headed at the same moment. And when, at the very very very last moment a messenger arrives to remind us that the story does after all have a bad guy, but he met a holy man on his way into the forest to kill everybody, a holy man who told him off a bit, so now he’s gone away to think about what he’s done, we accept this dramatic resolution in the same way we accept the physical presence of Hymen. There’s no question of staying in the forest though, apart from the melancholy Jacques who prefers the newly penitent hermit Duke to the jovial restored Duke, everybody’s happy to get back to having a roof over their heads.
Richard Pasco plays Jacques as a drunk. Or rather, as someone who starts off drunk, but then no longer needs an actual bottle to sustain his permanently louche and lop-sided swagger. He’s the bibulous equivalent of Obelix the Gaul, having fallen into some cauldron or other when he was a baby. I think when I was young, I saw no actor on stage quite so often as Richard Pasco – an NT stalwart with fascinating deep set eyes and the ability to project the most intimate of psychological disturbances across a large auditorium.
James Bolam is Touchstone, and his native Geordie accent alternates nicely with his repeated protestations of “courtliness”. And the only other role we really care about? The only role we really really care about is played by Helen Mirren. Her Rosalind is first introduced playing a hitherto unknown 16th century French version of cricket, and once she’s into her stride (or strides) as a man she obviously dominates the forest, in a state of breathless but inventive sexual excitement. Of course, she can run rings around Orlando and seems more devoted to Celia than to anyone else. Polymorphic polyamorous suggestions are never more thick on the ground than in this play, where heteronormativity is left so far back, panting and coughing in the real view mirror, that we’ve almost forgotten what it looks like.
The music, incidentally, is by the prolific composer Geoffrey Burgon, who composed two superb Doctor Who scores (Terror of the Zygons and Seeds of Doom), as well as that haunting nunc dimittis that played over the closing credits of the 1970s TV adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.
Apparently Basil Coleman, who had the use of Glamis Castle and its Scottish environs for the filming of this play, wanted to film it over the year to show the harshness and softening of the changing seasons, but this proved understandably impossible for budgetary reasons. But it still looks cold enough – far more like Scotland than France.
This strange plotless play is satisfyingly presented in its chilly greenery here – a green world where everything is possible, but where, ultimately, we can’t actually live.
Let’s all get indoors.