Girl meets boy

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 27.09.2013

Tonight As You Like It opens at the Grand Théâtre. Douglas Rintoul directs.

d’Lëtzebuerger Land: You’ve already brought us Noël Coward, Patrick Marber, Tena Štivičić as well as Elegy, a play devised by your own company, so why Shakespeare this time?

Douglas Rintoul: I think there are a number of different reasons. I love generating new work, but then there’s a muscle in me that really enjoys working on a classic text. As I haven’t directed Shakespeare for probably four or five years, it was a perfect combination of different things. It is a lot to do with the research for Invisible and Elegy and also for 1001 Nights, a piece I devised for children: a Syrian girl comes to the UK and uses the stories to understand her situation. I was on that trajectory, asking what those big narratives mean to us today.

I wouldn’t say As You Like It is my favourite Shakespeare play, but it ignites curiosity at this point. It is very episodic and peculiar – there is no central driving narrative to it.

Then, when I was doing research in Calais, I went to the No Borders camp. The extraordinary thing about the migrants who are there is that their living conditions are so hard but there’s a great sense of optimism and joy. They have an incredible life force – playing football or creating a sense of community – and often refer to themselves as a family…

This takes you right into the Forest of Arden, which is a very strange place…

Yes, a very, very strange place. Obviously, the first half of the play happens under a dictatorship. There’s enormous pressure, so people have to be alert all the time. And then, at the beginning of Act 2, you have that very powerful speech by the Duke. Exile is really hard. It’s so cold. There’s the responsibility of this man for the people who have followed him. It is a sort of rally to find a way forward and to look for beauty in the simplest things, particularly in nature. He’s pulling away from adversity to find a lightness and a joy.

Also, you get these parallel worlds before the different characters actually get together. At first they’re all trying to find a way on their own.

You look at Orlando and ask: What’s he doing? The poetry is the most glorious act of expression and liberation of a young man who has had very little education. He has had no real contact with other human beings, except for Adam. He has had no contact with women.

To me the play’s very modern. You have the cross-dressing and a lot of issues around gender. Rosalind is not just a pretty princess! And then you get Orlando, who’s being wooed.

He’s a spellbound fourteen-year-old boy. There is obviously a level of attraction between Rosalind and Orlando, a beautiful sense of play. I think Orlando does fall in love with Ganymede, with the charm and the pleasure. There is a sense of a lost childhood in there, a lost youth. And he taps into that. He’s never really had friends. So it makes sense that a young man ends up having this relationship with a younger, wittier boy. Yes, I think that’s what drew me to it. And there’s an exceptionally strong sense of what happens to people when they’re taken out of their home environment and put somewhere uniquely different. They have to have the possibility to redefine themselves in many ways.

You could idealise Arden as a place of escape and freedom, yet in the end most of the characters decide to leave.

That last scene is extraordinary because there is a hesitancy. Maybe it’s just my reading of it, but the Duke is really fighting, holding on to that moment before it is taken away again. There is a Scandinavian artist who has made a film in Calais. You see this guy – I think he’s from Afghanistan – living in a beach hut. He’s on the telephone to a friend who has arrived in England. They were in Calais together, and he talks about how his friend on the phone in London now doesn’t sound the same, doesn’t laugh any more, doesn’t love any more. This sense of loss of the thing they once had in this most difficult environment is very touching. I think that is what happens to these characters when they go back to the court.

Rosalind certainly loses out…

I think they all lose out. Celia loses out, the Duke loses out…

They are back to playing roles that were defined for them long ago.

The end of the play is very sad. In our version there’s quite a sombre tone because we have created a frame device within which the play unfolds, so we go back to a sort of reality at the end. As You Like It is, in fact, a multi-narrative piece. The play can say many different things and can be seen in many different ways. There’s a devising process with it because it’s so open and fluid.

Are there any Luxembourg actors on stage this time?

Well, there’s Elisabet Johannesdottir, who plays Rosalind. We’re bringing many people together: there’s a Georgian actor, a Polish actor, someone British-Turkish, British Asian, black British… There’s a Danish dramaturg and a Luxembourgish assistant to the director. It’s quite a motley crew! And an unusual cast for a Shakespeare play. So touring the UK (there will be 24 different venues over eight weeks) might cause a bit of a stir in some places.

As You Like It is at the Grand Théâtre at 8 pm on September 27, September 30 and October 1. Introduction to the play at 7:30;
Janine Goedert
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