As You Like It Review

@sohoplace – until 28 January 2023

Reviewed by Claire Roderick


Josie Rourke’s gorgeous production of As You Like It exudes warmth and charm with its inclusive cast and performance.

With her father exiled by her uncle, Rosalind’s protection in court is her cousin, Celia. But when Duke Frederick loses patience and exiles Rosalind, Celia leaves as well along with the fool Touchstone. Disguised as a shepherd boy and his sister, they travel to the Forest of Arden, where Rosalind’s father has set up a fairer bucolic society. Also fleeing to Arden is Orlando, ill-treated by his older brother and madly in love with Rosalind. This being Shakespeare, Orlando doesn’t see through Rosalind’s disguise as young Ganymede, and she is soon ‘curing’ him of his love.

Set in the round, with a piano the only permanent fixture on stage, the bare and cold feeling of the court scenes – all swishing skirts and boots clomping on the wooden floor – transform simply into the forest with a fall of leaves from the branches suspended high above the stage and a subtle lighting change, softening the pallet and the atmosphere.

The casting of deaf actors Rose Ayling-Ellis and Gabriella Leon as Celia and Audrey opens up a world of possibilities for a director like Rourke, and the choices add many layers to the story. The surtitles around the auditorium are introduced beautifully as notes appear when pianist and composer Michael Bruce begins playing the piano, before changing to parchment like screens as the dialogue begins. While Leon speaks and signs in the raunchy manner you’d expect from Audrey, Ayling-Ellis does not speak. Her signing is dramatic and emotive, and after a few scenes I forgot about the surtitles and instead just sat back and enjoyed her fantastic performance. The only time she speaks is to her father. The contrast between his attitude and the loving sincerity of Ben Wiggins’s stumbling attempts to sign when they first meet illustrates the fractured relationship and his lack of acceptance of her in a heart-breaking manner.

The impact of Ayling-Ellis’s performance slightly overshadows Leah Harvey and Alfred Enoch’s meeting in court, but also serves to highlight their characters’ growth and throwing off the shackles of court in Arden. Enoch’s Orlando, already dressing like a forest dweller in court, is passionate and funny – his vocal battle with the excellent Tom Mison as Touchstone is a hoot. Leah Harvey’s energy and wit as Rosalind is outstanding. June Watson adds gravitas as Adam and Corin, while Martha Plimpton prowls the stage magnificently as Jacques – portraying the restlessness and search for knowledge in an increasingly disappointing world with the slightest hunch of her shoulders.

Michael Bruce’s piano provides the beating heart of the show, and the songs that can usually be a bore in some productions are a joy. The arrangements and vocals – particularly from Allie Daniel and Plimpton – are delightful and create a dreamlike quality to the play.

As You Like It is a superb production, full of warmth and wit – a welcome treat this winter season