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As You Like It at Soho Place, London

Celia is played by Rose Ayling-Ellis, who won the 2021 series of the BBC Television contest programme Strictly Come Dancing. But please don’t expect any ballroom or tap dancing in the Forest of Arden. All of the dialogue for all of the characters is displayed on screens, visible from all seats in the theatre, and this Celia doesn’t merely stand there solely using British Sign Language. Often expressive in a variety of ways, including speaking certain lines out loud and commanding the stage through mime, it naturally follows that Rosalind (Leah Harvey), her close friend and cousin, is well versed (so to speak) in signing.

Rose Ayling-Ellis (Celia) in As You Like It @sohoplace. Credit Johan Persson.
Rose Ayling-Ellis (Celia) in As You Like It @sohoplace. Credit Johan Persson.

The production does well to portray Celia and Audrey (Gabriella Leon) as characters who simply happen to be deaf, never drawing attention to it or having any other character express reservations. This isn’t, of course, the lived experience of many people in the deaf community (I was stunned to read in the programme that deaf pupils have, historically, their hands tied behind their backs as a punishment for using sign language in school) but it’s worth noting that the show portrays what could be in terms of inclusivity and accessibility, both on and off stage. And it does this without being preachy or saccharine.

As You Like It has always been a musical comedy because of the inclusion of a number of songs in the text. A grand piano is on stage throughout, played by composer Michael Bruce, who provides accompanying music during sections of spoken dialogue too, occasionally shushed by a character who claims to have had quite enough. At one point the music is a little too successful in creating a dreamy atmosphere, inasmuch as it made me yawn. Allie Daniel, as court lady Amiens, has a glorious singing voice. The staging, meanwhile, is relatively uncluttered, and it is therefore the costumes that give the audience something to look at.

Orlando (Alfred Enoch) is suitably convincing in his pursuits of Rosalind, though it’s Nathan Queeley Dennis’ Silvius who steals the show in his attempts to woo Phoebe (Mary Malone). Dickon Gough as William, a Forest of Arden local with an unreciprocated interest in Audrey, puts in a heartbreaking performance as a man instructed by Touchstone (Tom Mison) to stay away. Setting aside all previous knowledge of the play, I found proceedings easy enough to follow, which frankly isn’t always the case with Shakespeare’s plays, especially ones like this that are largely faithful to the text.

If it plays to the gallery on occasion, it’s probably deliberate – the ‘you’ in the show’s title refers to the audience – and it is genuinely amusing. Steadily paced, I thought it could have progressed a bit faster in certain scenes, or otherwise have been more ruthless in trimming down the amount of dialogue. That said, this production strikes a balance between portraying the intensity of courting and the poignancy of true love. The great thing about it is that it engages those who aren’t necessarily all that familiar with the Shakespeare canon: whether you’ve seen As You Like It a hundred times or never, there’s much pleasure and delight to be had.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

This winter journey into the Forest of Arden in William Shakespeare’s glorious romantic comedy, As You Like It.

This joyous adaptation directed by Olivier Award-nominated Josie Rourke stars Leah Harvey (Foundation, The Wonderful World of Dissocia) as Rosalind, Rose Ayling-Ellis (EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing 2021 winner) as Celia making her West End debut, Alfred Enoch (Harry Potter films, Red, West End) as Orlando, Tom Mison (Sleepy Hollow, Watchmen) as Touchstone and Martha Plimpton (The Good Wife, Sweat, West End) in the role of Jaques.

Rosalind LEAH HARVEY (they/them)
Celia ROSE AYLING-ELLIS (she/her)
Orlando ALFRED ENOCH (he/him)
Touchstone TOM MISON (he/him)
Jacques MARTHA PLIMPTON (she/her)
Amiens, Court Lady ALLIE DANIEL (she/her)
Duke Frederick, Duke Senior TOM EDDEN (he/him)
Charles, William, 3rd Forester DICKON GOUGH (he/him)
Audrey, Court Lady GABRIELLA LEON (she/her)
Phoebe, Court Lady MARY MALONE (she/her)
Hisperia, 2nd Forrester SYAKIRA MOELADI (she/her)
Silvius, Dennis, First Forester NATHAN QUEELEY-DENNIS (he/him)
Le Beau CAL WATSON (they/them)
Adam, Corin JUNE WATSON (she/her)
Oliver BEN WIGGINS (he/him)
Composer / Pianist MICHAEL BRUCE (he/him)

Jaques, Audrey & Phoebe ALLIE DANIEL
Adam, Corin & Dukes DICKON GOUGH
Oliver, Silvius, Dennis, William CAL WATSON
Hisperia, Court Lady, 2nd Forester MARY MALONE

Lighting Designer Sound Designer Composer/Pianist Costumes By HOWARD HARRISON JOHN LEONARD MICHAEL BRUCE ROBERT JONES & POPPY HALL
Casting Director Associate Director Fight Director JACOB SPARROW KATIE-ANN MCDONOUGH KATE WATERS
Musical Director Production Management General Management DAN JACKSON KATE WEST LAURENCE MILLER & BECCI SNAPE

As You Like It
Soho Place, London
6 Dec 2022 – 28 Jan 2023

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