Review: All's Well That Ends Well

4 star rating
A rare production of Shakespeare's oddly dark comedy is embellished with some fine music and given a modernish twist in Tom Littler's lengthy but engagingly rewarding production.
All's Well That Ends Well at Jermyn Street Theatre

Image courtesy Jermyn Street Theatre



Closes here: Saturday 30 November 2019

Author:
William Shakespeare

Director:
Tom Littler

Cast:

Gavin Fowler - Bertram

Hannah Morrish - Helena

Miranda Foster - The Countess

Robert Mountford - Parroles

Ceri-Lyn Cissone - Diana & piano

Stefan Bednarczyk - Lafew & piano


Synopsis


"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."


When his father dies, Bertram rejects his friends, abandons his mother, and flees his childhood home.


But the orphaned Helena refuses to give up hope.


Following in her father's footsteps, she becomes a doctor, saves a monarch's life, and crosses half of Europe in the passionate pursuit of her happiness.


One of Shakespeare's most intensely romantic and bittersweet plays is given a magical and intimate production, drenched in the music of memory.


Part of The Memories Season.


Background


On Wednesday 13 November - there will be a Q&A immediately after the performance.


The panel will be Tom Littler, Director/Artistic Director (Jermyn Street) and the some of the cast.


All patrons are welcome to stay.


Trailer



ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 8 November 2019
Review star rating image

William Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well probably spends much of its time gathering dust in a packing box like the ones that adorn the set for this modernised version from Jermyn Street Theatre (in a co-production with Guildford Shakespeare Company).


All's Well rarely finds stage time if our records (of around 10,000 London productions) are anything to go by.


Outings of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, for example, massively outnumber those of All's Well.


From that (somewhat limited) data you may infer that this production is either a valuable opportunity to see the work, or that it's rarity value implies something amiss in the vehicle and, thus, best avoided.


In fact, this intimate, small scale adaptation is certainly worth catching.


The play, though, contains rather dark and devious elements which don't feel entirely believable, and there's a bitter taste in the title's meaning - that it doesn't matter what one has to endure as long as things turn out alright in the end.


Try telling that to people who've suffered through years of brutal war!


Jermyn Street's artistic director, Tom Littler, is at the directorial helm here, taking on the first Shakespeare production at this address in over a decade.


The cast has been pruned from around 14 or so to an ensemble of just 6 which includes two fine pianists whose talents add considerably to the overall mood and texture of the piece.


Two pianos sit symmetrically at either side of the set, which is otherwise dominated by two walls of packing boxes.


These artefacts have significance in terms of the season title - Memories - of which this is the penultimate production (Craig Taylor's One Million Plays About Britain rounds-off the season).


Mr Littler translates the setting to what seems to be the 1960s, and laces the play liberally with recorded music which, along with some lovely piano pieces, injects a music-laden dimension to the venture, invigorating it substantially.


The story revolves around Hannah Morrish's Helena who has fallen head over heels for Gavin Fowler's Count Bertram.


Unaware of Helena's love for him, Bertram leaves for Paris.


But in a move that smacks of stalking, Helena follows him to the Queen's court in Paris, cures the monarch with a potion and is rewarded with her pick of potential hubbies.


Predictably, she chooses Bertram who has little choice but to wed her, but immediately dashes off to become a soldier without consummating the marriage.


Bertram's relatively harmless (but rather irritatingly flamboyant) sidekick, Parolles, gets meanly duped into betraying his pal, and the count himself is easily hoodwinked by the 'bed trick' when Helena pretends to be another woman who Bertram is desperate to bed.


With a running time a little short of the three hour mark, the production is a touch on the drawn-out side, especially given some repetitive action that didn't feel wholly necessary nor entirely comprehensible.


But there's ample reward to be found in terms of enjoyable, well-delivered performances, high production values and well-chosen music that all combine into a seamless and pleasing whole, in spite of the darker tones in the plot, which might sit uncomfortably with some.


On a final note ... the Jermyn Street creative team seem to have got the scent of Shakespeare in their nostrils now and next March Tom Littler will be tackling The Tempest with Michael Pennington playing Prospero for the first time.



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