COMEDY BEATS DRAMA IN THIS SHAKESPEARE
ALLíS WELL THAT ENDS WELL
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lawrence
Presented by The Bacchanals
at The Long Hall, Roseneath, Wellington
From 23 Jan 2014 to 1 Feb 2014
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 27 Jan 2014
originally published in The Dominion Post
Women had it tough in Elizabethan times and were often forced into arranged marriages with unpalatable men. In All's Well Shakespeare, with some help from Boccaccio and folk tales, reverses the situation. The lowly born Helena is allowed to choose herself a husband. Bertram, a feckless young nobleman, isn't too happy about her choice.
Helena acquires this right by curing the King of France of a fistula. Does she cure him or is it a bit of quackery or is it because that's what happens in fairy tales? Neither Shakespeare nor The Bacchanals' enjoyable production makes it clear.
But Shakespeare, ever the realist, does give a tiny hint during the soap-opera happy ending, that reduces one courtier to announce his “eyes smell onions,” that all only “seems” to be ending well. The comedy is stronger than the drama in this production.
At the back of the bare acting area are two large banners that represent the major themes of the play: Mars, the god of war, and Fortuna, the goddess of good luck or bad and who, today, is the symbol of justice. The long final scene is a courtroom drama and earlier the men go off to war, though the soldiers are closer to Dad's Army than macho warriors.
David Lawrence gets vivacious performances from all his cast as well as performing the role of the King with regal authority and showing signs he could tackle Richard III. The duplicitous braggart Parolles is played with an amusing smarmy charm by Salesi Le'ota, while Joe Dekkers-Reihana is raffishly attractive as the duplicitous and randy Bertram.
Michael Ness plays the clown Lavatch and has fun with the dirty conversation he has with the well-bred Countess played by Jean Sergent. He also plays a Laurel and Hardy act with Alice May Connolly as the Brothers Dumaine. While Alex Greig makes a funny star turn in the cough-and-spit role of A Gentleman.
As the feisty but duplicitous Helena, she of the bed trick, Hilary Penwarden conveys well the purity of a traditional heroine in this misanthropic view of the world that Shakespeare drew.
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