Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ still frustrate scholars and directors over 400 years after they were penned. All’s Well That Ends Well is one such piece, classed in the problematic class due to the fact it’s never entirely clear what category it fits into, nor does the plot really work as a testament to the power of the Bard.
The tale of a commoner in love with a noble is a timely coincidence for the Globe. Helena loves the son of the Countess of Rousillon, Bertram. After curing the King of France she is offered the chance to marry any man of her choosing and so seizes the opportunity to choose Bertram. He’s not happy being cornered in this way and sets conditions for their marriage and then leaves for Italy hoping never to see Helena again.
It’s a complex plot and one that doesn’t entirely work. In many ways there seems to be two different plays here trying to compete and perhaps that explains why All’s Well is not one of Shakespeare’s most performed pieces.
Director John Dove goes for the comedic route, with a traditional and simple approach, making good use of the extended walkway into the yard and plenty of interaction with the groundlings. However, despite this lightness of approach it is a surprisingly heavy going evening and never fully surmounts the problems. The first half seems painfully slow and in need of some energy. This is rectified in the second half and the mood lifts but, overall, it seems an uneven production.
There are some nice performances from the company. Ellie Piercy combines the romance with a determined heart and works well with Janie Dee’s commanding Countess. James Garnon’s Parolles is a slippery delight and Sam Crane’s is a much more subtle Bertram than perhaps normally played.
There are some projection problems from the company at times, not only in competition with the passing jets but oddly also in quieter moments. It is early in the run so hopefully these matters will improve as the company re-acquaint themselves with the Globe.
The simple staging works to allow focus on the plot without distraction but conversely it does make for a flat comedy. While the approach does allow the verse to take centre stage the result is somewhat disengaging and it doesn’t always overcome that ‘problem play’ tag. Overall one comes out admiring the acting and the verse but never fully admiring All’s Well That Ends Well as a play.
Photo: Ellie Piercy and Janie Dee in All’s Well That Ends Well