Bard on the Beach
All’s Well that Ends Well
by William Shakespeare

Dates and Venues 2 July - 19 September 2009 at 8pm Tues - Sun | Vanier Park, Studio Stage

Director Rachel Ditor Costume Designer Mara Gottler Lighting Designer Alan Brodie Music Patrick Pennefather Set design Pam Johnson

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

At last. a production of All’s Well that Ends Well to enjoy. Rachel Ditor infuses the play with light-heartedness and ingenuity. Capers are cut; a chaise longue doubles as a psychiatrist’s couch, laundry metamorphoses into a tent with the flick of a wrist.

One of the problem plays, its young male lead, Bertram, is one of Shakespeare’s least likeable characters. And the bed-trick, by which Helena achieves her end and conceives a child by him is often condemned for its underhandedness.

Ditor’s intelligent direction provides context for Helena’s passion for the callow, caddish, super-aristocratic Bertram. At various moments throughout the play she finds places for self-revelation by both Helena (Lois Anderson) and Bertram (Craig Erickson). By exposing their vulnerability she makes them sympathetic.

Lois Anderson’s Helena is full of fun as well as determination and patently head-over-heels in love. Craig Erickson manages to keep Bertram’s (many) faults light-weight. His shame when he overhears his weakness of character exposed by Parolles is palpable, revealing a potential for redemption.

Scott Bellis’s Parolles is an unsettling character, sometimes bleakly comic, almost always a liar, ultimately enigmatic. Unfortunately Bellis’s performance was marred by incomprehensible diction, especially in the first act.

When the scene changes from France to Italy, the open character of the Widow Capilet, ably played by Jan Wood, and her circle is refreshing. Celine Stubel as her daughter Diana, brings strength of character, great warmth and vitality to her part.

Haig Sutherland is amusing as their – female – neighbour and priceless as the soldier/interpreter who interrogates Parolles. John Murphy and Ashley O’Connell are solid as the brothers Dumayne. Patti Allen (the Countess Rousillion) and Duncan Fraser (the King of France) add great dignity and humanity. Allan Morgan plays the lord Lafew, confidante of both King and Countess, as an old queen constantly flicking his handkerchief. He never quite overdoes it.

Ditor has chosen to make the parallel between a noble’s household jester and a modern psychiatrist explicit by playing the Rousillion’s clown Lavatch as the Countess’s analyst. In an otherwise subtle production though David Marr’s blatant Freudian caricature is a slip.

All’s Well that Ends Well has been moved in time to the nineteenth century with its connotations of restrictiveness, hierarchy, obedience and duty. It was also a beginning of women’s rights and emancipation. This works very well as a setting for Bertram’s coming-of-age story and Helena’s independence. Mara Gottler’s beautiful costumes ably illustrate these themes. .They are further supported by Patrick Pennefather;s music and Alan Brodie’s lighting . Pam Johnson’s set is impressive and her scenes and props clever.

Without evading the issues delivered to a director by a problem play, Rachel Ditor has made a world where the characters and their actions are plausible, interesting and sympathetic and where indeed all’s well that ends well.

© 2009 Elizabeth Paterson