I've sounded off before about this and now, a current experience to report.
I was contemplating going this afternoon to a reading of As You LIke It, by amateurs with a professional director, wine and mince pies included in the very modest £3. I remember enjoying the play at the Globe not many years ago. So in preparation I've reread it over the last couple of days. And now I'm not going.
There were bits I enjoyed. Always good to get into reading Shakespeare again, and I recall what insatiable and incessant readers of him some people I admire have been, like Ted Hughes (see the terrific volume of his letters). But the pleasure soon palled as I was confronted with a text that seemed in the greater part to be either unintelligible or, because of the tastes it appealed to in humour and conventions, was simply, to modern reader who was not a specialist, pointless. I was left fuming at the stupidity of making young teenagers study it in school: what young person today, with all his or her exposure to the wit and sophistication we’ve enjoyed in English drama since the Restoration, most recently with classic American films and the best TV comedy, would find anything appealing in this?
It’s not that the plot is silly. That doesn’t matter either with Lear dividing his kingdom or Duke Frederick’s vendetta against his brother and niece and sundry others: the banishing scene and the others in court are effective. As Germaine Greer said in her book on Shakespeare, there’s nothing so magnificent as a Shakespearian king or duke.
Rosalind is captivating, it’s true, even when playing silly games. ‘All the world’s a stage’ is a nice piece, but gains nothing by being in that place in that drama.
And there’s the fact that I really did enjoy it when I saw it, or remember myself as having done, when I saw it. There the main actors were terrific -- I don’t recall the clowns and fools and simple folk, who are usually a disaster on stage. What stays in the memory is the atmosphere of Arden, with lute music and gentle singing, absolutely seductive. I suppose some nice bits of scenery or props, even at the Globe. So I guess the text can be made something of -- but that’s what it’s a case of.
I suppose I should read it again to be fair. I don’t remember taking against it when I first read it long ago so it may just be that I'm getting sour with age.
But I don’t think a semi-staged performance by amateurs will help me to feel more kindly. So, no, I'll give it a miss.