All’s Well That Ends Well: Hampton Hill Playhouse
This review was originally written for the Richmond and Twickenham Times
The last of Shakespeare’s problem plays is made instantly accessible by Director John Roth, who does a wonderful job of streamlining the work to keep it flowing. Immediacy defines the production, the Open Stage cultivating an intimacy which helps engage and clarify this notoriously difficult to interpret dark comedy. Indeed, the sparse set helps ease the movement from scene to scene as we travel from France to Italy.
A tale of the ill-suited couple Helena and Bertram, All’s Well provides moralism with a twist: hinting at a more unpleasant view of human relations that contrasts with earlier, sunnier comedies like Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Our heroine is unusual in that rather than battling social class in the quest for unrequited love, she instead manipulates these conventions to overcome Bertram’s own reservations toward her. John Roth opts for an angelic rather than Eve – inspired representation of Helena, a measured and sympathetic portrayal provided by the impressive Jenna Powell. Val Wilding is equally accomplished as a thoughtful Countess, successfully conveying split emotions between affection for the admirable Helena and understanding of her son’s lack of moral fibre. This performance is key to symbolising the play’s overarching theme – a battle of the generations – maintaining virtue alongside materialism and love against lust. Fortunately, these heavy undertones are balanced by Barry Evans’ effervescently humorous, almost show stealing performance as Parolles. If John Roth’s production has a fault, it lies in Bertram’s easy final acceptance of his situation, grating against the uneasy reservation implied by Shakespeare’s concluding lines.
However, in truth it would be wrong to single out one performance since the entire cast contribute to what is an excellent production, admirably attempting to convey the play’s Jekyll and Hyde sensibilities. A fantastic night of entertainment, which can be enjoyed by those not regularly drawn to Shakespeare and which should put it in contention for nomination at the RSC World Shakespeare Festival in Stratford this summer.