All’s Well That Ends Well, Globe Theatre, London, May 2011Posted on 8 May 2011
A young Count, Bertram is brought up in the same household as Helena, a doctor’s daughter he has neither courted nor encouraged. She loves him, is desperate to marry him, and his mother favours the match, but his adamant refusal is over-ruled by the king, so he leaves home, and we should sympathise with him. Yet we don’t. Shakespeare gives us a most dislikeable character, unnecessarily brutal in his rejection of a fine young woman who has miraculously cured the king’s sickness.
On the other hand, Helena herself is hard to love. She is no Juliet — I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange — for though wedded to him, she is yet a stranger and her cunning hoists him on his own petard. He writes a letter saying, When thou canst get the ring upon my finger which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband: but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never’, yet this clever woman, who performed a miracle on the king, produces another on her husband. Using the ‘bed-trick’ she gets another well-born young woman to promise to lie with him at night, acquire his ring, and then substitutes herself.
Although Shakespeare’s title yields one of the most well-known aphorisms in English, this play itself is little performed. The young couple are unsympathetic and occlude their meanings in a plethora of prodoses and apodoses, continuing even to the end as Bertram says to the king, If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly/ I’ll love her dearly ever, ever, dearly, to which she responds, If it appear not plain and prove untrue . . . To these quasi-endearments the king finishes by saying, All yet seems well, and if it end so meet,/ The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.
The king — the lynch pin of this play — was superbly portrayed by Sam Cox, with noble bearing and fine diction yet still with a subtle comedic touch. In fact the wittiness of this production by John Dove came over well, aided particularly by James Garnon as Bertram’s friend Parolles, a braggart and coward, and with Colin Hurley as Lavatch, the fool in the Countess’s household. She, the mother of Bertram, was vividly played by Janie Dee, exhibiting life and good sense in the same measure as her son lacked it. Her affection for Ellie Pearcy’s well drawn portrayal of Helena helped give us some sympathy for this rather too clever young woman, who was well matched by Naomi Cranston as the shrewd young Diana who apparently seduces Bertram. He of course is not to be favoured by the audience, but Sam Crane portrayed his unlikeability mainly as diffidence, and his speeches were often a string of words generating little sense, with a voice that could not be clearly heard when he turned his back to the audience. But the cast as a whole did a superb job of bringing this strange comedy to life, and their dancing on stage when the play was over allowed all the characters but one to show rhythm and sparkle.
Well worth all the effort of those rehearsals, this production continues until August 21 — for more details click here.