Theatre Interlude: All’s Well That Ends Well

1 Sep

AllSwell

Yesterday saw me enjoying yet another production from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) – my fifth this year and the fourth at Stratford on Avon – a venue which is, conveniently, just an hour from home!

All’s Well That Ends Well is awkward, problematic and ambiguous as a play – and I rather like it for that. It’s neither a comedy, tragedy nor history – so it forces audiences to think.

Because of this it’s performed far less often than  Shakespeare’s more reliable crowd pleasers (indeed I believe it’s the first time in 25 years that the RSC have done it on the main stage at Stratford).

In the UK press, this production garnered 5 star reviews in the The Guardian and Daily Telegraph but only three stars in The Times and The Independent.  I’d give it four out of five.

My problem with the play is that I don’t warm either to the female lead character (Helena, played by Joanna Horton) or to the male (Bertram, played by Alex Waldmann). Both were enormously accomplished performances but, at the end of the play, audiences are left wondering:

(a) whether things really do end well for either or both characters and

(b) not really caring either way!

Bertram is  undoubtedly immature, shallow and priggish – although perhaps capable of emotional growth while Helena is still a sanctimonious, two-dimensional goody-two-shoes – although perhaps realising, as the evening ends, that this is equally immature!

Despite this formidable challenge I really enjoyed the performance – which showcased the RSC’s sheer strength as a repertory company and, above all Nancy Meckler’s assured direction.

The strongest performances were from Charlotte Cornwell (as Countess Rousillon – one of Shakespeare’s finest roles for a mature woman), David Fielder (as Lord Lafeu)  and Jonathan Slinger who by playing the braggart Parolles as a frustrated homosexual with a crush on Bertram, managed to draw real pathos as well as  comedy from his part.

There are three more plays in the RSC’s autumn repertoire which I’d love to see if I can get tickets – but my next confirmed date isn’t until next year.

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