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Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, @sohoplace

Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, @sohoplace

Josie Rourke's layered, delicate take on Shakespeare's pastoral comedy is the most accessible and gender-fluid production currently running in London.

Review: AS YOU LIKE IT, @sohoplace

After opening its doors with the joyous, life-affirming Marvellous, @sohoplace transforms into the Forest of Arden. Josie Rourke directs a beautiful, captivating new production of Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedy led by a non-binary actor playing Rosalind and many other non-cis performers.

Presented in the round with the inclusion of closed-captioning at every performance and a few BSL-signing characters, it's probably the most accessible, gender-fluid show currently running in London. Rourke leans into the musical nature of the play with a piano taking up centre-stage. Composer Michael Bruce sits at it throughout, observing the developing action around him and interacting lightly when prompted by the others or his accompaniment is specifically requested.

While British Sign Language adds a physical element, it also offers another layer to Celia's relationship with the world. Rosalind, kept at court at Celia's wishes, communicates with her cousin in sign language but the Duke forces his daughter to speak, grabbing her hands and becoming angry quickly at her disability. It's a compelling, thought-provoking choice from Rourke.

The story unfolds on a criss-cross wooden-tiled floor that's progressively showered in autumn leaves and petals falling from a canopy of twigs held together by marquetry. It gives a whimsical effect and splendid imagery. Designers Robert Jones and Poppy Hall have the company start off with Alexander McQueen-worthy black rhinestoned costumes that highlight the lavishness of the duchy (the pièce de résistance is Martha Plimpton's gorgeous tulle train at the very beginning). In direct opposition, the clothes worn by the exiled and peasants are of warmer hues with lots of neutrals and greeny browns. It's a perfect visual realisation of the tone of Shakespeare's world.

Leah Harvey and Alfred Enoch are simply fantastic together as Rosalind and Orlando, sharing a playful chemistry in their besotted state. Just as Enoch is dumbfounded and speechless when he first lays eyes on Rosalind, Harvey is rhapsodic in their infatuation. They introduce a confident, charismatic Rosalind and truly shine in their scenes with Rose Ayling-Ellis' Celia. They share an intimate connection that spans English and BSL with a carefully crafted physicality.

A brilliant performance by Tom Mison as Touchstone crowns the comedy in the show. He conducts a cacophony of goats and attacks his romantic rival with squeaky toys, fending off Dickon Gough's William before suggestively embracing Audrey (Gabriella Leon) and squeaking away together. The direction doesn't force any of the jokes, the actors working with Shakespeare's timing rather than merely exacerbating his humour.

Rourke's hand is light but effective when it comes to the treatment of the more serious themes. Charity and kindness coexist with the concept of chosen family and parental rejection. Tom Edden's duality of Duke Frederick - shouty, irate - and Duke Senior - amiable, loving - is executed exquisitely with an on-stage costume change and an impressive, immediate alteration in demeanour.

This is a layered, delicate production that's as detailed in its visuals as it is in the poignancy of its reflections and nuance of its comedy. It's safe to say that Shakespeare directed by Rourke has become an event in its own right.

As You Like It runs at @sohoplace until 28 January.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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