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.
Marianne Elliot's recent production for the National Theatre emphasised the fairy-tale nature of the story. For the Globe, however, 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, hair bequiffed like a cockatoo, relishing the wordplay – his sparring with Helena on the merits of losing one's virginity were particularly delightful. 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.