There aren’t too many Shakespeare plays with which I am completely unfamiliar, All’s Well That Ends Well, however, is one of them – I don’t know it at all, never seen it, never read it. Having now seen it I can say that it is one of Shakespeare’s more improbable plots centred on the ever present question, why do all these Shakespearian women insist on marrying horribly immature men who treat them appallingly. Helena is in love with Bertram but the love is not returned. As a reward for curing him of his ailments, the King of France, compels Bertram to marry Helena – he can do that you know. Following the ceremony Bertram flees to Italy to fight in the war promising Helena that she may never call him husband unless she contrives to get the ring from his finger and become pregnant with his child. Thus we are treated the triumvirate of disguise, subterfuge and revelation.
This was a very enjoyable evening with some really beautiful moments and great performances. Alex Waldmann’s Bertram started on the right side of puerile and immature and developed believably into a young man facing the consequences of his – and others - actions. In his defence, however, why wouldn’t he run off, having been given in marriage as a ‘reward’? I’m sure I would. Jonathan Slinger is, again, terrific, as the pretentious and pompous Parolles, loved, loved, loved him.
If I had any issues with this production it was that sitting, as I was, on the side of the thrust I was watching a lot of backs on stage and these backs were blocking other performers. A significant amount of action was played mid stage and straight on and it was commented on by my companion at the interval, that she felt she was missing things and at one point there were three performers in a line and all we saw was the back of one of them. I have seen performances from many vantage points in both this theatre, The Swan and The Courtyard and have never encountered this problem before; it’s a shame because it rather marred my enjoyment.
Having said that, this is a little performed Shakespeare and has a lot going for it, so go see it – just don’t sit at the sides.