As the newest theatre in London, Soho Place has just put on its first original production in the form of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” directed by the talented Josie Rourke. Rourke brings a warm charm to the text, balancing the light-hearted comedy with the moments of poignant affection and sorrow.

This wonderfully inclusive production, not only with many parts played by trans and non-binary performers, also interweaves British Sign Language (BSL) at the heart of it. The exuberant Rose Ayling-Ellis makes her West End debut, following her win as the first deaf contestant on strictly come dancing, as a playful Celia. She communicates for the majority of the play only in BSL with the exception of her father, however, who refuses to sign with her meaning she is forced to speak - thus emphasising their strained relationship and his bullying nature. Celia and Rosalind, performed by the animated Leah Harvey (they/them), communicate with each other through only BSL throughout the play, giving them an even closer intimacy and friendship as they partake in this shared language unknown to many other characters.

The incorporation of BSL allowed Rourke to add some particularly emotional moments including a personal favourite of mine, the meeting of Celia and Oliver - played by Ben Wiggins. In this heartfelt scene, Oliver is informing Rosalind why Orlando broke his promise of meeting her. While recounting his story he notices that Rosalind is signing everything he is saying to Celia behind him and, as a way of showing his newfound affection for her and a change in heart to become a kinder man to others, he begins to try and sign himself.

Harvey takes on the demanding lead of the witty Rosalind and approaches verse with eloquence. There is no costume change for the reveal of Rosalind’s identity at the climax of the play, instead they remain in their countryman’s attire, leaving gender ambiguous. This, I think, reinforces the theme of freedom and finding oneself along with peace amongst the trees of Arden.

In my opinion, the gender swapping of characters in disguise, common to many Shakespeare comedies, lends itself extremely well to having a cast of performers that includes a range of genders. I hope that other directors will be inspired by Rourke’s example and have an inclusive cast, providing more opportunities for non-binary and deaf actors in theatre. I can’t wait to see what Rourke does next – hopefully something just as progressive and inspiring.