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All’s Well That Ends Well (Susan Elkin reviews)

All’s Well That Ends Well
William Shakespeare (part of The Memories Season). Co-production with Guildford Shakespeare Company
performance date: 08 Nov 2019
venue: Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6S

Photos: Matt Pereira


This is a play which doesn’t get many outings. I was one of four critics seated in a row to confess that none of us had seen it before. And it was a relief in the interval to overhear Michael Pennington, no less, telling someone that even he had seen it only twice before.

I can see why directors might shy away from it. It feels in places like an amalgam of other plays with its bed trick from Measure for Measure, a lot of business with rings as in The Merchant of Venice and the character of Parolles which seems to be Lucio from Measure for Measure mixed with elements of Twelfth Night’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek seasoned with Falstaff from the Henrys. And has for the title, well I just hope desperately that Shakespeare was being ironic because given everything that has happened all cannot possibly be well at the end. A marriage founded entirely on lies and deception really doesn’t have a lot going for it.

Nonetheless, Tom Littler and his team and well cast company of six have created something watchably entertaining out of it. The story telling is direct and the whole piece is accessible – provided you can suspend belief and manage not to worry about plausibility.

I particularly liked the use of two actor musicians in the cast – Stefan Bednarczyk and Ceri-Lyn Cissone play pianos on either side of the playing space which acts a lot of atmosphere to the rather wistful 1960s setting. Cissone is also an accomplished comic actor and Bednarczyk brings plenty of self important gravitas to the character of Lafew, a Polonius type.

The thrust of the plot is that Helena (Hannah Morrish) wants to marry Bertram (Gavin Fowler) with whom she has been brought up but he rejects her because she isn’t noble enough. She manages to trap him in formal wedlock but has to resort to shennnigans with the help of another woman in order to get the marriage consummated.

Morrish has a compelling knack of listening with her eyes and Fowler is good at naturalistic mood shifts. Miranda Foster plays three different older women, including the Queen in Paris who replaces the King in this production. She distinguishes between them effectively, bringing warmth to Bertram’s newly widowed mother and authority to the Queen, once she’s been miraculously cured by Helena of her illness and left her deathbed. Robert Mountford is fun as the blustering braggart and “snipped taffeta fellow”, Parolles who simpers, postures, prevaricates and argues.

Part of The Memories Season at Jermyn Street this production stresses remembering. Morrish spends a lot of time mournfully looking at old papers in boxes although it doesn’t add a lot and is sometimes confusing. Are we to presume that Bertram is now dead? It’s not clear.

First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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