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Prominent director successfully adapts the
Shakespeare's lesser-performed "comedy" of unrequited love and achieving your romantic dream through whatever means necessary is a play that hasn't, on the whole, sat well with audiences.
All's Well That Ends Well from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Photo: Ellie Kurttz
Emotionally, the happy ever-after ending doesn't add up as we see spoilt anti-hero Bertram, who has spurned the woman he was forced to marry by running off to fight in the war, suddenly transform his strong feelings of hatred into dutiful love.
All's not particularly well with the plot either as you have to suspend belief if you are to accept the extent of the manipulation of Bertram.
Yet despite the somewhat unrealistic material that Shakespeare has given director Nancy Meckler, she works with everything at her disposal to solve this problem play's gaping holes for the latest Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production.
In her bag of tricks are two of the RSC's finest performers - Jonathan Slinger (as braggart Parolles) and Greg Hicks (as the very regal King of France). She also makes Bertram's change of heart seem more believable as he matures through time and experiences in the army, donning shades and combat gear that are more synonymous with British troops in recent conflicts like Afghanistan.
Jonathan Slinger is one of the highlights in All's Well That Ends Well. Photo: Ellie Kurttz
From the start, handsome, wayward and rich Bertram is introduced as more interested in clubbing and soaking up champagne than the attentions of besotted Helena, an intelligent and attractive doctor's daughter. He's the bad boy that good, honourable Helena just can't resist.
But when Helena cures the sickly King of France, she is promised the hand of any man in the kingdom, and she uses this opportunity to gain the object of her affection, to snobbish Bertram's shock, anger and disgust at being forced to marry below his station.
When his hand is forced by the King, he goes ahead with the marriage but steals away in the night to fight in the army, informing his new wife by letter that he will only accept their marriage when she has managed to get hold of the family ring from his finger and carry his child, both of which he will never willingly give her.
But he has under-estimated Helena's determination, and she continues to seek him out, and gain both the ring and a night of passion from him without Bertram even knowing it.
Bertram (Alex Waldmann) is manipulated by his new wife in All's Well That End's Well. Photo: Ellie Kurttz
Joanna Horton is suitably obsessed and naive as Helena, while Alex Waldmann is believable as self-centred Bertram, who despite his faults, gains some sympathy, particularly as he sobs over a letter claiming that his wife is dead.
Joanna Horton as Helena in All's Well That Ends Well. Photo:Ellie Kurttz
Meanwhile, a sub-plot follows the exploits of Bertram's duplicitious, social-climbing sidekick Parolles, who is exposed for the cowardly cheat that he is.
Where this production particularly succeeds is through the play's comedy scenes. Bertram's reaction to being picked as Helena's husband provide plenty of giggles, but none more so than when Parolles' gets his come-uppance. The fall from grace is hilariously complete as his extravagant pointed moustache turns out to be of the stick-on variety.
It is one of many nice touches that lift this modern and very watchable production. So, my advice is to not take the plot too seriously and enjoy a well-acted, beautifully-staged three hours of entertainment.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon All's Well That Ends Well runs in repertoire in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Stratford upon Avon, until September 26. Tickets cost from £12 from the Royal Shakespeare theatre website.
Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne
It will then be performed at Theatre Royal, in Newcastle upon Tyne, from November 5 to 9. Tickets cost from £12 from the Theatre Royal website.
The play is three hours and 10 minutes, including a 20 minute interval.