All’s Well That Ends Well
Rotherhithe and East London Playhouse (The Hithe Albion St)
It is a brave decision to open a new theatre in these economically troubled times. The new Rotherhithe and East London Playhouse, which is located in a small cosy attic of a building described as The Hive, is intended to be a regular venue for “free kids shows and affordable classics for all.”
Given it was my first visit, I arrived at the locked and seemingly deserted Hive forty-five minutes before the performance of All’s Well That Ends Well and spent the next half hour touring the churches, the cafés and pubs of the area in the hope of finding someone who might have heard of the playhouse. Eventually, staff in the local overground station took pity on me having already consoled a lost soul looking for the venue. After consulting maps, one of them walked me back to the Hive where we found three people sitting in a corridor by the front door looking as if they were pensively awaiting a dental appointment.
The production on a thrust stage in a candle-lit room is clear and compact. It is a play in which women take the lead in determining what happens. Helena (Miranda Kent) who has accumulated medical skills from her father saves the life of the king despite his scepticism that a woman could possibly be a doctor. Her reward is to be married to the unwilling Bertram (Raman Kribi) who tries to escape by running off to war.
Being a dissolute aristocrat with no one to fight, he passes the time by playfully kidnapping his friend and trying to seduce a local woman Diana (Vicky Relph) into his bed.
Miranda Kent is a reflective Helena willing to take risks and encourage our sympathies by playing down the pushiness this role can easily lend itself. A deliberately more authoritative speaker is Jan Olivia Hewitt as the Countess who for the entire play when she isn't in a scene sits in a prominent position watching events unfold.
If the actors give generally reasonable performances, there is at times among a few of the cast a strange wandering of accents that might range from one character's heavy impression of French to the drift into what sounded like east European. But the most distracting element of the show was the constant soundscape of supposedly courtly music irrespective of the action taking place on stage.
Despite having had only one preview performance, the show is certainly watchable and will no doubt become more so.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna