Review Round-up: First All's Well for the GlobeDate: 13 May 2011
Shakespeare's so-called "problem play" All's Well That Ends Well opened at Shakespeare's Globe on 5 May (previews from 27 April 2011) where it plays in rep this summer. The production marks the first time that the play has played the main stage of the current Globe.
The play tells the story of the orphaned Helena, who is hopelessly in love with Count Bertram, the son of Helena's guardian, Countess Rousillion. Chaos ensues as Helena attempts to win the love of Bertram, and the plot unfolds in a muddled tale of forced marriage, mistaken identity, and trickery.
"This is the first time that the Globe has tackled this, one of Shakespeare's so-called problem plays, those works that eschew some of the lighter touches but don't lead to the tragic ending ... Director John Dove has brought out the comedy, downplaying some of the deeper moral questions that lie at the heart of the play but providing plenty of entertainment for the groundlings. It's a play that has one of the most attractive heroines, Helena, the lowly daughter of a doctor who saves a king's life and gets the reward of the man she loves - to be rejected by him. There's a touching performance from Ellie Piercy, who manages to make Helena seem human and not some arch prig – not always the easiest task. It's hard to think what she sees in Sam Crane's uncharismatic Bertram though. There's also a good performance from Sam Cox as the King of France, his commanding presence suggesting someone not to be trifled with. He's nicely supported too by Janie Dee's Countess who's not quite as sympathetic as usual, peevishly slapping both Helena and Bertram, suggesting she's not a woman to be crossed. But it's the comic playing that brings the play to life. James Garnon is excellent as the swaggering Parolles ... Michael Bertenshaw's courtier Lefeu also has an assured touch as does Colin Hurley's Lavatch – all three serve as crowd pleasers. And Sophie Duva's widow, protecting her daughter with an eye to the main chance, attracts more laughs than is usual. While some of the play's complexity has been lost, Dove has drawn out all the comic potential while making good use of the Globe space, all making for an entertaining evening."
"This is a good, clear, well-spoken production by John Dove of one of Shakespeare's most beguiling but least-loved plays. All it misses, for reasons that may not be entirely its own fault, is the melancholy that pervades a comedy that Barbara Everett once described as "elegiac rather than saturnalian"...The problem with the play is always Bertram, who seems a snobbish rotter on rejecting marriage to Helena on the grounds that she is "a poor physician's daughter". But Sam Crane plausibly plays him as a callow youth heavily influenced by the laddish military ethos and half in love with the woman he spurns ... Janie Dee as his mother, the Countess of Roussillon, is also much younger than usual and invests the character with a sparky volatility ... Ellie Piercy is also a direct, forceful Helena: the character Shaw so much admired as a prototypical Ibsenite heroine. Underneath the determined opportunist there is, however, a touch of the magician about Helena, and Piercy might relish more the rhetorical passage where she urges her curative powers on the diseased French king. But the comedy is in good hands with James Garnon's popinjay of a Parolles...While there is much to enjoy, the audience's truffle-hunting eagerness to seize on every available laugh militates against the play's sombre beauty ... As John Gielgud once said of The Importance of Being Earnest, sometimes it is an actor's duty, in the interests of the play, to stop an audience laughing."
"All's Well That Ends Well is usually classed among Shakespeare’s so called “problem plays”, the main problem in my view being that it’s not much cop ... Watching the play’s latest revival at the Globe... one understands why All's Well has been described as one of Shakespeare’s least loved and least performed comedies ... Yet, somehow, John Dove’s production repels sympathetic engagement ... To me the evening often felt weary, stale flat and unprofitable. The play’s language is clotted and convoluted and the drama keeps veering between psychological realism and the style of a folk tale... Bertram... seems to be let off the dramatic hook far too easily at the end ... It doesn’t help that Ellie Piercy is such a dull, drab Helena, while Sam Crane’s Bertram has a sense of unearned grandeur and priggish superiority that puts one in mind of our unlovable Chancellor of the Exchequer. James Garnon could make much more of that braggart coward of a soldier, Parolles, and his final humiliation is neither as touching nor funny as it should be. The only performance that really shines is Janie Dee’s as the Countess of Roussillon ... This difficult play is a bold choice for the Globe but on this occasion courage has been rewarded by only meagre dramatic returns."
"All's Well That Ends Well certainly isn't one of Shakespeare's more popular plays. A comedy overshadowed by mourning, it promotes an almost Machiavellian cunning ... The plot... is hardly refined, and the text, often obscure, does not show Shakespeare at his most linguistically potent. Although contorted expression can be psychologically revealing, here much of it seems unhelpfully dense. Yet John Dove's production points the meanings neatly and emphasises humour ... Its design is spare rather than gorgeous, its mood spirited rather than pregnantly ambiguous. There's a busy physicality that at times is close to a romp. Strangely, this is a Shakespeare play without a true star part but the performances are eloquent. Ellie Piercy's Helena has a manner that feels desperate and strenuous; her passion and conviction extend the fibres of her body as well as her mind. But she's a sensitive actor, and so, in a more understated way, is Sam Crane, who as Bertram gets to show his easy, unassumingly excellent diction. As his mother, the Countess of Roussillon, Janie Dee has queenly authority and a lovely fluency. And James Garnon's Parolles is a mix of wired intensity and extravagant wit, with a smattering of pained humanity. Dove's production demonstrates an understanding of both the possibilities and the limitations of The Globe. It's a pacy, generous and straightforward reading which illuminates a work that tends to be gracelessly pigeonholed as a "problem play".
"You will search in vain for anything meaningful in this Shakespeare romcom. But, when handled with care, it can be& very pleasing entertainment. And what’s most pleasing about John Dove’s production is that it’s the best-dressed performance I’ve seen at this venue ... Designer Michael Taylor has organised a gorgeous array of Jacobean costumes, draping the cast in lush velvets, fine lace and glowing satin. To go with these fabrics, scaled-up etchings supply French landscape, while powdery blue lamp-posts accessorise the stage. Shakespeare was intent on showing off with the language in the play. But Dove’s production ensures the actors render their lines with crystal clarity. And there are bawdy touches, especially as supplied by James Garnon’s histrionic soldier Parolles. Garnon is a fruitier, leaner successor to Brian Blessed and all but steals the show. He embellishes his part with baroque goateed features and animated eyebrows. Janie Dee, Ellie Piercy and Sam Crane all do very nicely, too. Working the fabric of Shakespeare’s verse together, they tailor a handsome pageant."
** Join our Whatsonstage.com Outing to ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL on 22 June 2011 – including a TOP-PRICE ticket, FREE cushion voucher & an EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A, all for just £30! – Click here for more details and how to book **
- Brenna Weingus