Josie Rourke’s As You Like It plays interestingly with gender and access at the brand spanking new @sohoplace
“I’ll have no husband, if you be not he”
Though I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive new theatre @sohoplace for sitting on the grave of the much-loved Astoria, it really is a lovely intimate space, the Donmar on steroids with something of the aesthetic of the Bridge in there too. As You Like It marks its debut original production and Josie Rourke’s luxuriously cast production makes a decent case for the introduction of a new theatre into an already crowded West End.
Technological advances mean it is no biggie for captions to be shown on all four walls, a great access decision but one which reflects the casting of two Deaf actors in the company. Recent Strictly winner Rose Ayling-Ellis’s Celia uses BSL almost exclusively, heightening the intensity of her relationships, firstly her sisterly bond with Leah Harvey’s Rosalind and then the fast-emerging but gorgeously played romance with Ben Wiggins’ Oliver too.
Rourke is also saying something interesting about gender here too. An inclusive company means means that at both court and in Arden, there’s a prevailing sense of unremarked gender fluidity that feels dreamily lovely. And most tellingly of all, Rosalind’s grand reveal is played without any transformation back from her Ganymede persona, a sense of acceptance of this identity from both father and lover again feeling so refreshing.
The incorporation of Michael Bruce’s onstage musician is an interesting one. His near-constant accompaniment can sometimes feel a bit intrusive but it does allow for some moments of lovely comedy as the characters interact with him. And Rob Jones’ design offers plenty of witty surprises for this in-the-round auditorium, an autumnal warmth to the forest is enhanced by Howard Harrison’s lighting.
Harvey is excellent as Rosalind, using Ganymede as an exploration of self as much as disguise, their energy wonderful to behold as they navigate the tumult of emotion bursting forth. Alfred Enoch’s slightly zany Orlando is a real treat as he woos with gusto, Tom Mison daddies up as an amusing Touchstone, June Watson doubles up effectively as Adam and Corin and Martha Plimpton’s beautifully spoken Jaques finds real magic in the melancholy. Just lovely.