After setting foot into the stunning new theatre, Soho Place, we are suddenly welcomed into the wintery settings of Josie Rourke's presentation of Shakespeare's ‘As You Like It', the second production to take place at the newly opened West End theatre. With a star-studded cast, the show features Rose Ayling-Ellis (Strictly Come Dancing, Eastenders) as Celia, Alfred Enoch (Harry Potter, How to Get Away with Murder) as Orlando, and Martha Plimpton (The Goonies, Raising Hope) as Jacques, as well as some incredible actors, such as Leah Harvey taking the role of Rosalind.
Although the stage is spacious and open, the nature of Soho Place allows the audience to be up-close and intimate to the action being presented to them. The grand piano is the first thing we see, coldly sitting alone in the space. This instrument is then beautifully at the core of the story throughout, played by Michael Bruce underscoring the entire show. The piano travels with us to the forest of Arden and is constantly engaged with by the characters. At times, the instrument acts as a place of rest, a place to stand and shout, and the characters even communicate with the pianist to help enhance their speeches with melodic tunes. This theatrical choice works perfectly with the story, and never feels out of place.
This production incorporates British Sign Language (BSL) on stage and captioning at every side of the theatre. Nadeem Islam, BSL Consultant for the show, brought a ‘variety of sign' to the show – BSL, Visual Vernacular (VV), sign mime, gesture and Sign Supported English (SSE) ‘to communicate the story' (Islam, Soho Place). This is incredible to see on a stage at a general performance, not just at an access performance. It is beautifully incorporated into the language of Shakespeare, a classical language that could be communicated to any member of the audience, whether hearing-impaired or not. During the show, we mainly see this be used in conversation between Rosalind and her cousin Celia when together, communicating intimately away from others. It was to be considered why there wasn't signing throughout the show, but certain moments proved this question to be irrelevant. When Celia's father, played by Tom Edden, who doesn't want his daughter to sign, furiously sends her and Rosalind away, we suddenly hear Celia speak with so much passion and anger. This is the only moment she uses her voice for an entire line, trying to stand up to a man of power. This is an example of the director, Josie Rourke's, brilliantly incorporating Deaf identity into a classical Shakespeare text.
As mentioned with the on-stage grand piano, music is a huge part of this production, with frequent musical moments throughout. The voice of Allie Daniel is stand-out; beautifully singing the words of Shakespeare with a modern tone. Plimpton also uses songs to express the melancholy nature of Jacques in chilling scenes.
It is also to be mentioned the stunning costume design – outfits that are often adapted on-stage for scene changes. These are so beautifully woven into the simple, almost-eerie stage design. When leaves fall from the sky, and snow starts to settle on the ground, we truly see the splendour of the forest of Arden.
‘As You Like It' is playing at Soho Place until 28 January 2023. You can find tickets from £24 by clicking here. And using the code LTR8 you can get an extra 8% off.
Review: Anna Hulm Photo: Manuel Harlan