Review by Daz Gale
All the world’s a stage and the newest stage in the world (or at least the West End) belongs to the shiny, new theatre that is @sohoplace. After opening in October, they are ready to put on their second production (their first original one) and this time they have gone for a bit of Shakespeare with an innovative adaptation of As You Like It.
Written in 1599, As You Like It is a romantic comedy which sees Rosalind and her cousin flee to the Forest of Arden where she finds love and a whole host of interesting characters. While love is at the heart of the play, it also talks of gender with a mix of inspired casting and the direction in itself making interesting contrasts and comparisons between perceptions from over 400 years ago and the awareness we have now, with a fourth wall breaking speech at the shows climax giving food for thought.
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Adapting a Shakespeare play that has been performed countless times in various iterations across multiple mediums for hundreds of years and still bringing something new and interesting to it isn’t an easy task but Josie Rourke’s adaptation has managed that with ease. Her direction makes full use of the beautiful @sohoplace which is performed completely in the round. Some truly inspired creative choices make As You Like It a true joy to watch, bringing something new to the classic while still retaining Shakespeare’s original text.
A truly remarkable cast have been assembled to bring this production to life. Leah Harvey is truly exceptional leading the pack as Rosalind. Proving extreme versatility in their acting choices, they are always a joy to watch in a performance that balances heart and humour. Alfred Enoch gets a delightfully comic turn as Orlando in an effortlessly charismatic portrayal while Tom Mison is a humorous highlight as Touchstone.
Photo by Johan Persson
After winning Strictly Come Dancing and the nations hearts last year, Rose Ayling-Ellis makes her London stage debut with a commanding portrayal of Celia. Through a mixture of British Sign Language and moments of speech, she once again proves what a beautiful talent she is and is one of the standouts of the show. Martha Plimpton makes the most of rather limited stage time in a memorable performance as Jaques. Her flawless delivery of the often melancholic role leads to a captivating portrayal and one that left me longing for more from her, while other standouts among the consistently fantastic cast include Mary Malone as Phoebe, Tom Edden as Duke Frederick and June Watson in the dual roles of Adam and Corin.
Music plays an important part of this production of As You Like It with a piano forming the centre of the staging and underlying the majority of the dialogue. Composed and performed by Michael Bruce, he is ever-present interacting with the cast in often humorous manners, with a lot of jokes at his expense. This was an inspired decision that adds an extra layer to the production. Some musical numbers are performed by the cast, none more spectacularly than Allie Daniel who gets to show her stunning vocals on multiple occasions.
Photo by Johan Persson
One of the most admirable elements of this production of As You Like It is how beautifully accessible it is. With Rose Ayling-Ellis and fellow cast member Gabriella Leon both Deaf actors, BSL has been integrated into the production with one character in the show struggling to understand the sign language. As well as the fantastic use of sign language, every performance of As You Like It is captioned with all dialogue (and some hilarious descriptions, usually at the expense of the pianist) on display on each of the four walls of the theatre, making it even more accessible. In a time where not all theatres are reacting to accessibility needs as quickly as they should be, this was really amazing to see and sets a precedent for others to follow.
The space at this theatre is used to great effect thanks to a gorgeous design from Robert Jones. A beautiful transformation into the forest is executed thanks to a drop of leaves, while tricks in the flooring of the stage make for some great visual gags. The costumes, co-created with Poppy Hall, are a visual delight, with the initial elegance and regal clothing giving way for the extremities of forest attire to fabulous effect. Beautiful lighting from Howard Harrison and sound design from John Leonard makes this a strong and cohesive production which is elevated thanks to Josie Rourke’s expert direction.
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Shakespeare plays might not be the top choice of theatre for everyone but in this production of As You Like It, there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Accessible in every meaning of the word, the classic elements of Shakespeare’s 400 year old text are brought up to date with new modern elements, creating a wonderful piece of theatre that ticks all the boxes. It’s these production decisions alongside its incredibly impressive cast that made this play more enjoyable than I was honestly expecting. A beautiful production in every sense, As You Like It is a wonderful piece of theatre.
As You Like It plays @sohoplace until 28th January 2023. Tickets are available from www.sohoplace.org