All's Well That Ends Well is one of the trickier Shakespearean comedies: a tangled web of emotional tensions and seemingly intractable situations where it's hard to see how everyone could possibly end up happy.
On the whole, director Nancy Meckler's approach in the current RSC production works: there's never any doubt about where our chief sympathies should lie, but at the same time we can always see the other side's point of view. The conclusion is upbeat but not overly starry-eyed; we're left feeling that there's a chance that things might just work out OK, but not without some hard work from all parties.
Alex Waldmann is suitably caddish and devil-may-care as Bertram, but by the end of the play you get the impression he's well on the road to maturity (though it would have been good to see a little more of his journey along the way). Joanna Horton handles the demanding role of Helena well, and though I would have occasionally liked a little more subtlety in her interpretation, in general she succeeds in balancing maidenly modesty with hidden passions and a quick mind capable of conjuring up ingenious solutions.
There are many other fine performances: Greg Hicks commands the stage as the King of France, even when wasting away from a supposedly incurable illness. Charlotte Cornwell is nicely understated as the Countess of Rossillion, and Natalie Klamar is a pleasingly feisty Diana. I also had a soft spot for David Fielder as Lord Lafeu, who is a dignified but sharp-witted straight man to some of the broader comedy.
At the moment, it feels like a good show that needs tightening up a little: some of the comic scenes, in particular, would benefit from a smarter pace (or perhaps even a little trimming). The humour is certainly there, it just feels a bit flabby around the edges in places.
One section that romps along without any difficulty, however, is the gulling of Parolles in the second half: it bubbles with energy and provides plenty of laughs. Jonathan Slinger spends most of the piece building the character up into the sort of knavish rogue who makes you smile but also leaves you itching to see him get his comeuppance – which is delivered in spades.
Overall, it's a good night out; not earth-shattering, perhaps, but a solid and entertaining interpretation of one of Shakespeare's less frequently performed comedies.
- Meriel Patrick
See also: Our 20 Questions interview with Charlotte Cornwell