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All's Well That Ends Well

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe
(2011)

All's Well That Ends Well production photo

Anyone lucky enough to see John Dove's charming and extremely funny production will wonder why All's Well That Ends Well is so rarely performed.

This may not be Shakespeare's best play and its poetry is lacking but the plotting encompasses many of the playwright's favourite ploys and feminists will have a field day.

In addition, though the leading man is a slightly wet and very pompous scoundrel, there is a stream of memorable characters to delight in.

The two leading female parts both give excellent opportunities to actresses and the pair here make the most of it, comparing well with their most recent predecessors, Clare Higgins and Michelle Terry at the National, each of whom was superlative.

Ellie Piercy is vulnerable and very touching as the determined Helena. She is a poor doctor's orphan who, after putting the King back on his feet from an invalid's (gem-encrusted) wheelchair, is given as a reward her choice of courtier as husband.

Having been brought up by the very natural Janie Dee's noble Countess of Roussillon, it comes as no surprise that Helena has her eye on that lady's handsome son Bertram. However, despite the encouragement of both the King and his mother, Bertram, played by Sam Crane, prefers to run off to war rather than stay with the rather earnest but kindly beauty to whom he has become betrothed.

The plot develops in Italy where the warriors make hay. There we get a good sight of Bertram's right hand man, a kind of poor man's Falstaff, James Garnon as Parolles. He is a braggardly coward who eventually gets his comeuppance, insulting the whole company while blindfolded, much to their amusement and that of the audience.

Whilst away, Bertram seeks to sow his oats in adulterous fashion with commoner Diana but the lustful young man falls for the old bed-swap trick of which Shakespeare and his contemporaries were so fond.

The drama builds to the happiest of endings, featuring a couple of rings, a resurrection and a reconciliation that promises a rosy future for all.

While one would expect the leading ladies to get the more serious plaudits and Parolles the comic equivalents, on this occasion due respect should be paid to Colin Hurley who turns the Countess' man Lavatch into a dry-witted, gnomic clown of a servant deriving constant humour in his double act with Miss Dee.

The period is suitably re-created not only by a bosky black and white backdrop that sparkles in the night scenes but also by sumptuous costumes courtesy of designer Michael Taylor and William Lyons' music, which majored in mellow percussion.

Anyone who wants to try out the Globe experience from the Pit will have a great time, only needing to stand for a light, breezy 2½ hours and finding the actors mingling happily with the groundlings, aided by a long catwalk through their midst.

Those who prefer the relative comfort of the seats, will also discover that their hardness is forgotten as laughter flows.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher