Rose Ayling-Ellis has recalled being left "trembling" after a man interrupted her performance in Shakespeare's As You Like It, as she shared insight into her life as a deaf person in new BBC documentary Rose Ayling-Ellis: Signs for Change.
The Strictly Come Dancing champion made her West End debut as Celia in the production, which was held at Soho Place in London from 14 December to 28 January.
In the production, Ayling-Ellis performed using British sign language (BSL) and in the documentary she explained that she was happy to be able to show that deaf people can use sign language on stage, and being able to improve representation in theatre.
However the experience was somewhat soured when a man began shouting aggressively whilst she was mid-performance during their final matinee show.
The cast had to leave the stage while staff escorted the man off the premises, but the incident left Ayling-Ellis feeling "really upset" to the point of breaking down in tears.
"He was standing on the corner and he was shouting. I didn't understand what was going on because I couldn't hear him," she explains in the documentary.
Watch: Rose Ayling-Ellis responds to heckler
"We got off and then someone told me he said that he didn't like the show and he said that we were discriminating. I just can't believe that a man thought it was okay to stand up and interrupt the show.
"It's like, why can't I be a normal actress and go out and perform without being interrupted? You know what it [has] only fuelled the fire in me."
The outburst continued to impact her mentally, though, so Ayling-Ellis spoke with a close friend on the show in order to talk about how she was feeling in the moment.
"After I finished the performance that's when it hit me. I cried a lot," she said. "I cried because every single scene that I was signing in felt more meaningful."
When her friend asked about how she "must have been quite shaken" by the event, she added: "I was trembling.
"I couldn't stop thinking about that man and if everyone else in the audience felt the same. There might be people there sat thinking, 'Why are they signing? I don't like it.'"
Ayling-Ellis added that she learned that the man was complaining about not being able to read the subtitles while she was using sign language, but she said: "His aggression and anger directed at me was really upsetting."
The EastEnders star went on to be nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in April 2023, however she lost out to Anjana Vasan who won the prize for her portrayal of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Rose Ayling-Ellis: Signs for Change will air Monday, 26 June at 9pm on BBC One.