All’s Well That Ends Well, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Although often deemed a ‘problem play’, All’s Well That Ends Well can also be said to be progressive. Our heroine gets a lot of stage time, soliloquies and – for want of a better word – sass.

And yet, some of the characters are lacking. We may never know why Shakespeare chose to write them as he did, but (and perhaps because we are not 100% sure of the final play) the idea that Helen and Bertram live ‘happily ever after’ because she’s carrying his child is a bit ridiculous.

As a production, this adaptation is almost flawless. The modern setting works well with the story and the staging is simple, but impactful. Social media is often used to embellish a point in theatre and is especially effective in this instance to add layers to the story.

All main characters are strong actors and the play flows in such a way that the interval arrives in a flash. The soldiers (especially the two Dumains, Micah Balfour and Eloise Secker) provide subtle comedy, but director Blanche McIntyre has taken the role of Parolles (Jamie Wilkes) and made him funnier and more irritating than ever before. And it’s fabulous. Wilkes knows when to subtly break the fourth wall to enhance the comedy and his comedic timing is impeccable. His scenes with Simon Coates (Lafew) are excellent and the pair bounce beautifully off each other. There are also a few modern phrases thrown in to enhance a plot point and these help a 21st century audience to relate.

Rosie Sheehy as Helena walks the line between obstreperous teenager and scorned woman, showing determination without appearing to be psychotic. It’s an excellent role, but her motives are questionable, because apart from his good looks, the object of her affection doesn’t have much with which to redeem himself. Yet Sheehy manages to make Helena more likeable than she perhaps deserves. Benjamin Westerby does what he can with Bertram, but Shakespeare has not given his character has much to work with. Claire Benedict as the Countess provides a touching performance, as she is torn between her son and the woman she sees as a daughter.

The play itself provides a lot of food for thought, but under McIntyre’s eye it remains a humorous piece. This excellent adaptation is mesmerising from start to finish and is one of the best RSC productions I’ve seen.

All’s Well That Ends Well runs through 8 October.

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