The Memories Season
THAT ENDS WELL
By William Shakespeare
A co-production with
Guildford Shakespeare Company
Directed by Tom Littler
Jermyn Street Theatre
Wed, 6th - Sat, 30th November 2019
Review by Clive Burton
After Jermyn Street’s recent slew of short, interval-less, one acters, Shakespeare’s protracted two -hours-plus All's Well That Ends Well (with interval) delivers quite a shock to the system.
Directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director, Tom Little, this is the first Shakespearean production on that stage in the past decade but, by all accounts, it won’t be the last.
The multi-purpose set - including an upright piano to the extreme left and right upstage - and modern costume designs are by Neil Irish and Associate Designer, Anett Black, and their mainly sombre colour palette melds pleasingly into the simple multi-purpose background.
Many audience members were experiencing this ‘difficult’ play for the first time and, whilst some obviously enjoyed it, others appeared to find the main players less than engaging in a story where a major characters’ sex had been changed (ailing King to Queen was just one example in a cast where several roles were essayed by a single actor).
Helena’s story - at the start she is reviewing her life in a complex story that embraces many of the Bard’s regular plot tropes. She is the daughter of a deceased physician whose expertise she employs to cure a fatally-ill Queen; her reward is to be granted the hand of the Countess's son, Bertram, the man she has been long been pining for.
Forced to marry beneath him, Bertram obeys his monarch's edict, but abandons his new wife before the wedding can be consummated and leaves Helena with an impossible conundrum to unravel.
Gavin Fowler lacks sufficient charm as Bertram, making it difficult to fathom Hannah Morrish’s (as Helena) enduring passion for him.
She sows the seeds of a future partnership with a ‘bed trick’ (not the first in Shakespeare’s canon) that sees her wedding night consummated with her blindfolded husband Bertram, who thinks he is making love to someone else and she also completes the conundrum by gaining possession of his ring: silly stuff, but essential to the play’s development.
The first half sets out the plot clearly enough, but the convoluted actions of its multiple characters prove over-indulgent in expanding the rationale behind the complex turns in the second half’s (unconvincing) plot.
The most sympathetic portraits are delivered by Miranda Foster as Bertram’s mother, the Countess, the ailing Queen in Paris so miraculously cured at the hand of Helena and a Widow in Florence whom Helena apprises of her true identity.
Robert Mountford convinces as Bertram’s foppish friend, Parolles, although some may find him too obnoxious to be likeable and veer towards the animosity felt by Stefan Bednarczyk as the Queen’s counsellor - despite the briefest hint of homo-eroticism between the two...
Mr Bednarczyk shares the role of accomplished accompanist with Ceri-Lyn Cisonne, who also (over) plays the young Army Officer, Dumaine, who interminably interrogates the cowardly traitor Parolles, and as the widow’s daughter, Diana, facilitates the ‘bed trick’.
What proves a challenging choice for director and audience alike, this All’s Well that Ends Well leaves a question mark hanging over an ambitious production whose trio of female relationships is so crucial in propelling the play to its apparent ‘happy’ ending.
Running time approx 2 hours 15 minutes including an interval.
Monday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees Tuesday & Saturday 3.30pm
Under 30? 100 tickets at £10 are available for under-30s.
Bookable online or by telephone – please bring proof of age to the performance.