Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

All's Well That Ends Well

William Shakespeare
RNT Olivier
(2009)

Production photo

For me, anticipation has rarely been higher before a theatre visit in recent times. For five years, All's Well has been the odd one out, the only Shakespeare that I have never seen. It is therefore a delight to report that Marianne Elliott has delivered a literally magical production of a Shakespearean comedy that is little performed.

There is a suspicion that she believes the text to contain weaknesses and has therefore worked hard to entertain in what at times looks like a fairy tale makeover.

Rae Smith's design is Tim Burton Gothic and adds much to the evening, especially when she uses silhouettes and freeze frames. There are attractive video images courtesy of Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll and superb lighting from the ever reliable Peter Mumford. The costumes are more of a problem, as they are of no set period, covering three or four centuries, as does the body language.

In strong company, Michelle Terry, who was so good in Richard Bean's England People Very Nice on the same stage, stands out. She plays poor, wronged Helena, a mystical healer who turns Oliver Ford Davies' King of France from an ailing, arthritic ancient at death's door to a dancing wit.

Her reward is barbed to say the least. With the blessing of the rejuvenated King, Helena is permitted to marry the love of her life Bertram, a blond male bimbo, if there is such a thing. George Rainsford in that role ably exudes the awful rake's lack of enthusiasm for a marriage arranged by his distinguished mother The Countess of Rossillion, played with great dignity and feeling by Clare Higgins.

The young man is disowned and flees to make his name in battle and enjoy the life of a heartless womaniser. The nobility of a warrior is counterpointed by his companion, Conleth Hill's Parolles, an arrogant, Falstaffian coward with a touch of Malvolio about him, who is a far better braggart than soldier.

All of this is told in a kind of fantasy style with very quick transitions and concentration on bawdy comedy and visual impact whenever possible.

The play builds to a climax following that old ring trick, which eventually enables the mismatched pair to live happily ever after.

All's Well That Ends Well is reputedly a Problem Play and suffers from some of the plotting weaknesses of its close companion, Measure for Measure, as well as later works like Cymbeline and Pericles, while having a charm of its own.

This may not be Shakespeare at his very best but thanks to the courage and vision of Marianne Elliott and her team, it proved a lovely way to end a sequence that has given so much pleasure over many years. To make things even better for prospective visitors, it is one of those Travelex £10 plays and will prove a real bargain to anyone that makes that modest investment.

For me, anticipation has rarely been higher before a theatre visit in recent times. For five years, All's Well has been the odd one out, the only Shakespeare that I have never seen. It is therefore a delight to report that Marianne Elliott has delivered a literally magical production of a Shakespearean comedy that is little performed.

There is a suspicion that she believes the text to contain weaknesses and has therefore worked hard to entertain in what at times looks like a fairy tale makeover.

Rae Smith's design is Tim Burton Gothic and adds much to the evening, especially when she uses silhouettes and freeze frames. There are attractive video images courtesy of Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll and superb lighting from the ever reliable Peter Mumford. The costumes are more of a problem, as they are of no set period, covering three or four centuries, as does the body language.

In strong company, Michelle Terry, who was so good in Richard Bean's England People Very Nice on the same stage, stands out. She plays poor, wronged Helena, a mystical healer who turns Oliver Ford Davies' King of France from an ailing, arthritic ancient at death's door to a dancing wit.

Her reward is barbed to say the least. With the blessing of the rejuvenated King, Helena is permitted to marry the love of her life Bertram, a blond male bimbo, if there is such a thing. George Rainsford in that role ably exudes the awful rake's lack of enthusiasm for a marriage arranged by his distinguished mother The Countess of Rossillion, played with great dignity and feeling by Clare Higgins.

The young man is disowned and flees to make his name in battle and enjoy the life of a heartless womaniser. The nobility of a warrior is counterpointed by his companion, Conleth Hill's Parolles, an arrogant, Falstaffian coward with a touch of Malvolio about him, who is a far better braggart than soldier.

All of this is told in a kind of fantasy style with very quick transitions and concentration on bawdy comedy and visual impact whenever possible.

The play builds to a climax following that old ring trick, which eventually enables the mismatched pair to live happily ever after.

All's Well That Ends Well is reputedly a Problem Play and suffers from some of the plotting weaknesses of its close companion, Measure for Measure, as well as later works like Cymbeline and Pericles, while having a charm of its own.

This may not be Shakespeare at his very best but thanks to the courage and vision of Marianne Elliott and her team, it proved a lovely way to end a sequence that has given so much pleasure over many years. To make things even better for prospective visitors, it is one of those Travelex £10 plays and will prove a real bargain to anyone that makes that modest investment.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher