It’s running on star billing: Bafta-nominee Leah Harvey plays a somewhat pensive, deeply empathetic Rosalind opposite EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis’s more lively, comedic Celia. It’s through Ayling Ellis, whose journey as a deaf performer was documented on Strictly Come Dancing, that Rouke’s production charts new territory. Ayling-Ellis signs the majority of her role, with the rest of the British Sign Language-trained cast signing back to her, while we, the audience, read along on subtitles (always helpful when it comes to Shakespeare) screened around the stage.
Alfred Enoch (Orlando) in As You Like It @sohoplace. Photo: Johan Persson
Alfred Enoch (Romeo & Juliet, King Lear), who many will remember from the Harry Potter films, is continuing to cement his reputation as a worthy Shakespearean actor, playing Orlando with buffoonish charm. In one scene faintly parodying Juliet’s balcony moment, he sings his love for Rosalind in a falsetto warble from the dress circle.
Another noteworthy performance comes from American import Martha Plimpton, whose Jacques is practically a pastiche of Jacques, arriving on stage accompanied by a puff of sorry leaves falling from above. Her and Orlando’s exchange of wit is a highlight.
Rourke has teamed up with musical director Dan Jackson to lean into the play’s often buried potential to run as a musical comedy, and credit must go to composer-pianist Michael Bruce, and actor-singer Allie Daniel, for carrying the show’s tuneful side. Bruce remains on stage for most of the show, working in piano riffs to mirror the mood on stage.
Michael Bruce (Composer & Pianist) in As You Like It @sohoplace. Photo: Johan Persson
Robert Jones’ design is stripped back but gorgeous in its simplicity. Working with the theatre’s in-the-round composition, he sets the action on a tiled floor, which grows a leafy carpet as the story progresses. Bruce’s piano is virtually the only prop, above which hangs a painting frame filled with forest twigs – a nod to the play’s court-to-countryside shift in setting.
It’s quite static as a production, cutting any sense of traipsing through the forest in favour of capturing the ennui and lovelorn frustrations of those living there, who frequently hurl themselves on the piano in despair. This works well for the relatively small stage.
However, it seems to run out of steam towards the end, as if it’s released all the tricks from up its sleeve, holding nothing back for the final moments. For a production that ekes out the story’s songs, there’s no high-spirited dance to round things off, either. Little bother though; away with tradition! This As You Like It leaves us thoroughly entertained.
|What||As You Like It, @sohoplace review|
|Where||@sohoplace , 4 Soho Street , London, W1D 3BG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Tottenham Court Road (underground)|
06 Dec 22 – 28 Jan 23, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|