Wednesday 20 April 2016

Theatre Review: All's Well That Ends Well at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

This review was first written for The Reviews Hub

All’s Well That Ends Well is the second play in Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s season commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Following on from Hamlet, and again co-produced with Tobacco Factory Theatres, this difficult, lesser-performed comedy has been rewritten in parts by Dominic Power, moving its action to the mid-19th Century and reimagining some of its characters.

At the dark heart of this problem play is the uneasy union of doctor’s daughter Helena and Bertram, son of the Count Rossillion. Its central characters don’t emerge from the relationship covered in glory; neither Bertram, who is given to Helena as husband by the King of France and runs away to war to escape her, nor Helena in the trickery she employs to win him back.

Eleanor Yates as Helena is earnest and determined; in the certainty of her desires and how to fulfil them, she shines as a woman potentially ahead of her time – beloved , it seems, by all apart from Bertram. Yet, in her purity of spirit, she also seems to lack the complexity required to descend into deceit. Craig Fuller as Bertram succeeds on the whole in treading a difficult line, having to be worthy of the virtuous Helena’s love and yet equally willing to reject her for lack of status. Instead, he pursues the life of a single man intent on proving his own masculinity – although his hopeless dilemma as victim of the King of France’s commands could be expanded upon.

Paul Currier is pitch-perfect in bringing out all the foppish comedy of the braggart soldier, Parolles, and the scene of his downfall, as he is exposed as a coward and unwittingly betrays each of his compatriots to their face, is one of the highlights. Isabella Marshall, who portrayed Ophelia so convincingly in Hamlet, is again outstanding as Diana, the Florentine maid favoured by Bertram, who conspires with Helena to deceive him with the infamous bed-trick.

Lavatch, played by Marc Geoffrey – a clown in Shakespeare’s original play – for some reason becomes Bertram’s music and dancing master, although the inclusion of ballads and a pavane are a nice touch. Max Johns’ staging is once again minimal, leaving it to Elizabeth Purnell’s sound design and Matthew Graham’s lighting to provide an effective contrast between the scenes at court and war.

Overall, Power’s changes to the text have the effect of drawing out the comedy and transforming Shakespeare’s original into a more upbeat, less equivocal piece. That this glosses over some of the more complex moral issues that provide the substance of All’s Well That Ends Well is disappointing, but it does add to Andrew Hilton’s renowned clarity of story-telling and the ultimate entertainment value of the play.

Runs until 23 April 2016 (in repertoire with Hamlet 28 – 30 April 2016) | Image: Mark Douet

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