By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHEN?: Saturday 14 January, runs through 28 January 2023 RUNNING TIME: 180 minutes (with 20-minute interval)
This production of As You Like It by director Josie Rourke is her 1st theatre work for more than 4 years since Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and it is absolutely bursting with ideas
- Read on for reasons including how there was perhaps 1 idea too many in this intimate and musical As You Like It
Composer/pianist Michael Bruce sits onstage at a piano for much of the play accompanying the action with music which enhances rather than detracts from what we are seeing.
This is our 2nd visit to the West End’s newest venue and it’s a brilliant space for theatre – we are sitting in the front row, the stage is in the round and the cast enter the action from 4 entrances and we are sitting on the end of a row immediately next to 1 of them.
There’s a beautiful transition early on in this production signifying our arrival into the Forest of Arden as the piano descends through the stage floor to be partially obscured and leaves fall through a forest rooftop-like gauze near the venue’s ceiling.
As You Like It is a comedy thought to have been written in 1599 and is the story of Rosalind who flees persecution in her uncle’s court with her cousin Celia and finds herself in the forest as they encounter characters including the melancholy Jacques who speaks many of the Bard’s most famous speeches including: ‘All the world’s a stage.’
Jacques is played here by Martha Plimpton (pictured centre above), who we’ve never seen onstage before, and she’s an absolute revelation here with her deep voice providing gravitas to her character and even bursting into song occasionally making this a terrifically musical As You Like It.
We’re here because we’re big fans of this production’s leads, Alfred Enoch as Orlando (Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe) and Leah Harvey (Bull In A China Shop, National Theatre) as Rosalind (both main picture) and their chemistry is infectious.
We’re so close to the action that Orlando almost falls from the stage into our lap during the wrestling scene where Rosalind falls for him and he for her.
Orlando pursues her into the forest where Rosalind disguises herself as a man, they meet and there is a frisson between them although she chooses not to reveal her true identity immediately.
Elsewhere June Watson (pictured right below, The Welkin, National Theatre) is memorable in a string of roles not least as Orlando’s ailing companion.
We very much enjoyed the comedy Nathan Queeley-Dennis brought to his role as Silvius and how Mary Malone as Phoebe rebuffed him because she has fallen under the spell of the disguised Rosalind.
The inclusion of deaf actress Rose Ayling-Ellis in the cast did feel like perhaps 1 idea too many although the subtitles on screen around the venue did mean it was much easier to follow Shakespeare’s sometimes impenetrable script.
Tim Mison as fool Touchstone was genuinelly funny and we loved his response to Orlando’s crazed falsetto singing which was met with wild crowd applause.
The intimacy of the venue also means the audience can’t help but be drawn into the action and the forest setting here meant that closeness was well rewarded and felt suited to the material.
Perhaps after so long away from the stage, director Rourke was just fizzing with wanting to do so much that not all of it landed here but we look forward very much to 2 upcoming productions of hers: Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons which starts in previews next week at the Harold Pinter Theatre and Dancing At Lughnasa at the National in April.
- Main picture via Facebook courtesy @sohoplace Tickets
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