This is undoubtedly Michelle Terry's show. Whenever she's on stage as Rosalind, you just don't want her to exit. If there's a catalogue of famous Rosalinds whose performances shine on in the memory, she should be in it.
I never saw Vanessa Redgrave in the part, but I do remember Adrian Lester in Cheek By Jowl's all-male version, and Victoria Hamilton in a much-praised Sheffield production in the 1990s. Terry's portrayal is not just on a level with these, but more satisfying for the audience because she knows exactly how to get the best out of the unique open-air experience at Shakespeare's Globe.
The Globe stage is a magical space, but it needs skilled wizards to break down the fourth wall and make it work, and Terry, who played Titania in Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe, is one of them. Her performance brings out all the fragility of Rosalind's epic piece of 'counterfeiting' when she pretends to be a man to woo Orlando; the play-acting is a tightrope act by someone who knows that any moment she might fall to earth. It's very very funny but it also has the seriousness in which great comic acting is always grounded.
Terry is well partnered by Ellie Piercy as Celia. She is more self-effacing in the role than Laura Rogers, who rather stole the show as a finger-wagging, hyper-interventionist Celia last time the Globe performed this play in 2009. Piercy is also an experienced Globe actor, having starred in several productions including Blue Stockings and All's Well That Ends Well.
Simon Harrison as Orlando does a serviceable job, but like most actors who take on this thankless part, he can't escape from being just a foil for Rosalind. When he takes his shirt off at the start of his wrestling bout to reveal a nicely-honed set of muscles, Rosalind's jaw drops, producing the first big laugh of the evening and reaffirming that this is her scene, not his.
James Garnon is another experienced Globe actor who combines great comic talent and timing with an ability to command the space with no apparent effort. But his interpreation of the tricky role of Jaques, while amusing, doesn't convey any clear sense of character. The mordant combination of camp wit and gloomy melancholy which Tim McMullan brought to the role in 2009 under Thea Sharrock's direction is missing. Daniel Crossley, as the less introspective Touchstone, gives a more straightforward and more successful performance, while newcomer Gwyneth Keyworth stands out among the other supporting cast in the role of Phoebe.
Blanche McIntyre is a rising star among directors; the first time I saw her work was at the tiny Finborough, where I thought her direction of Dawn King's Foxfinder was an absolute knockout. Since then I've seen a couple of other examples of her work, and been less certain. I didn't enjoy what I saw of her Comedy of Errors at the Globe last year, which seemed to me overburdened with comic business unrelated to the play. There are one or two similar examples in this production, including an unwanted (unwanted by me, anyway) intrusion of a bicycle and a shopping trolley. But generally she allows the actors to generate the comedy using Shakespeare's words, which is the way it should be. Her forest of Arden has no trees, real or fake, which makes a nice change. I'm convinced that over-elaborate sets don't work well at the Globe, and it's much better to get the audience members to use their imagination.