The Long Hall, Roseneath, Wellington

23/01/2014 - 01/02/2014

Production Details

Your friends The Bacchanals (6-time Chapman Kip and 11-time Chapman Tripp winners!) are back to kick off the theatrical year for 2014 with one of their favourite obscure Shakespearean comedies performed in their favourite obscure Wellington venue! Last summer was blood & homoerotica & Oedipal complexes in Coriolanus; this summer The Bacchanals are proud to bring magic potions & dying kings & unjustly-wronged heroines to The Long Hall in All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s classic tale of a girl who can’t understand why her stepbrother doesn’t want to marry her!

With the King of France dying of an apparently incurable disease, the orphaned and low-born Helena turns out to be the only person in the world with the medical knowledge to save the King’s life. As a reward, the King grants Helena the power to marry whoever she desires, regardless of wealth and status – but no one is prepared for the severity and ruthlessness of the seemingly-virtuous Bertram’s rejection of Helena as his royally-decreed wife, nor with the lengths Helena is prepared to go to in order to win his love.

“I know, I know,” says The Bacchanals’ director, David Lawrence from the cabinet room of his bunker while his actors shave the serial numbers off ammunition clips, “starting the year with a romantic comedy is hardly in keeping with our usual guerrilla approach to theatre. But this is no ordinary romantic comedy, and we’ve got lots of other angry political stuff planned for the rest of the year. Don’t worry, there will be bombs!”

All’s Well That Ends Well stars Hilary Penwarden as Helena and recent Chapman Tripp-winner Joe Dekkers-Reihana as Bertram, with stalwart company members Salesi Le’ota, Brianne Kerr, Jean Sergent, Michael Ness, Charlotte Pleasants, Alice May Connolly, Aidan Weekes and a special guest appearance by the legendary Alex Greig.

Winners of the Critics’ Wildcard award for Guts, Determination, Kiwi Ingenuity and Inspired Profligacy With Zero Budget at the 2013 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, The Bacchanals intend to spend 2014 campaigning for good and fighting evil, so don’t forget there’ll also be the world premiere of Dean Parker’s Once We Built A Tower at BATS in March! 

23 Jan – 1 Feb, 7pm (no show Mon)
Roseneath Long Hall, 13 Maida Vale Rd (behind Roseneath School & St Barnabas’)
Tickets: $15 / Bookings: 

JEAN SERGENT as the Countess of Rossillion
JOE DEKKERS-REIHANA as Bertram (her son)
HILARY PENWARDEN as Helena (an orphan living with the Countess)
AIDAN WEEKES as Lafew (an elderly Lord)
SALESI LE’OTA as Parolles (friend to Bertram)
MICHAEL NESS & ALICE MAY CONNOLLY as the Brothers Dumaine (French Lords)
BRIANNE KERR as the Widow Capilet & the Duke of Florence
CHARLOTTE PLEASANTS as Rynaldo (a steward) & Diana Capilet

MICHAEL also plays Lavatch (a Clown)
ALICE also plays Mariana (the Widow’s neighbour)
JEAN also plays the First Soldier

WALTER J. PLINGE as the King of France
ALEX GREIG as the Gentleman
and ELLIE STEWART as Maudlin Lafew

Publicist BRIANNE KERR  
Associate Producer CAROLYN DEKKERS  

Theatre ,

Comedy beats drama in this Shakespeare

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Jan 2014

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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The whole amounts to less than the sum of the parts

Review by John Smythe 24th Jan 2014

All’s Well that Ends Well* is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s ‘Problem Plays’** – a designation that has at three meanings: they cannot easily be categorised as Comedy, Tragedy or History plays; they tend to be about what could be called ‘social problems’; directors tend to find them problematical when it comes to settling on a performance style.

As a tale from Boccaccio’s Decameron (see below*) redeployed to an arguably more serious purpose, some of the plot devices can stretch credulity, not least the one where a man is tricked into sleeping with a woman thinking she is someone else.

The Bacchanals’ ‘anything goes’ presentation – most obvious in the all-over-the-place and often strange costume choices – is their solution to the style problem. While their trademark ‘Poor Theatre’ conventions and charming affability remain, they present All’s Well as a rough-hewn Comedy, and ‘once over lightly’ at that in key areas, which would short-change any of Shakespeare’s Comedies let alone a Problem Play that is striving for something more gutsy. 

While the Emo eye makeup in the publicity shots may signal something of a piss-take, they don’t use it in the show. Thankfully Hilary Penwarden plays the central role of Helena – the orphaned daughter of a respected doctor and hopelessly in love with Bertram, the son of her guardian – with great sincerity.

The main social problem the play confronts is class: Bertram is the Count of Rossillion and he automatically dismisses the commoner Helena as “base”. There is also a lot of robust commentary and comedy around sexual politics, most notably pointing up the right of young men to screw around while young women must remain virginal until they are married.  

Joe Dekkers-Reihana brings strong credibility to the fallible Bertram, delineating his journey to emotional maturity with entertaining clarity.

As Bertram’s friend Parolles – who, as the ‘evil genius’, is seen by some as a prototype Iago (although his come-uppance has more in common with Malvolio) – Salesi Le’ota gives a winning performance that challenges us to accept his casual flair as a ‘good mate’ before the ‘gulling’ scene reveals his true nature. (He doesn’t get Iago-like soliloquies to expose his deviousness more readily.)

The Countess of Rossillion is usually confined to being the honourable matron of the play when the clown character – Lavatch, a left-over favourite of her late husband – is dropped. But here he’s included in a splendid rendering by Michael Ness, so Jean Sergeant is able to counterpoint the strong integrity of the Countess with a more jocular dimension when coping, for example, with Lavatch’s unrequited urge to procreate and his compulsive allusions to sexual body parts.  

Also strong are director David Lawrence (a.k.a. Walter J Plinge) playing the fistula-plagued King of France – who is given a new lease of life through Helena’s inherited skills as a doctor – Brianne Kerr as the Florentine Widow Capilet and Charlotte Pleasants as her daughter Diana. Notwithstanding the King’s assumed right to threaten execution on anyone who doesn’t obey him and dictate who shall marry whom – or rather who may chose whom and who must obey – the exposure of Bertram’s self-serving and dishonourable actions packs a good wollop in their hands.

All this should add up to a great production all round but there are other choices that subvert it. Because Aidan Weeks – lower half in doublet and hose; upper half like Frank from Some Mother’s Do ’Ave ’Em – brings his characteristic verbal stumbling and fumbling to Lord Lafew, the Countessess’s old retainer has no impact in picking Paroles early on for the fake he turns out to be. He does however, on opening night, get a good laugh on his “onion” line at the end.  

For some unaccountable reason the brothers Dumaine (Michael Ness and Alice May Connolly), French Lords who are Captains in the army, are got up to look like Dupond et Dupont (or Thomson and Thompson) from Tintin. As a visual gag is raises a smile to begin with then they are stuck with it; the actors trying to impose comic characteristics where they don’t belong. Likewise playing the soldiers as buffoons in Ancient Chinese Army headgear conspires to radically dilute the jeopardy the gulling scene should put Paroles in.  

This is not to say all the costume choices are questionable. The Musketeer-style feathered hats for Bertram and Parolles and the rest of their costumes serve them well. Be they ‘modern dress’, older gear of combinations of both, the costume choices are often most fitting.

Playing it out in a shallow thrust space causes sightline problems from the side (where I was) when straight lines are employed rather than diagonals and playing back into the space. And too often asides are played quietly to the closest audience members where throwing it back to someone across the space would allow everyone to get it.

While I have no problem with The Bacchanals’ casual approach – in fact I love it – it has, in the past, been counterpointed with a strong focus on the play’s essential purpose. That is what’s lacking here, despite their having gone to the trouble of signalling the core conflict by flanking their usual red Bacchanals ‘arras’ with hangings depicting Mars and Fortuna.

The knowingly over-the-top, in-jokey ‘guest appearance’ by Alex Greig in the functional role of A Gentleman is another example of an odd choice that subverts the play’s dramatic purpose and the value of the strong performances mentioned above.

In his programme note, David Lawrence – who has recently returned from a stint at Shakespeare’s Globe in London – writes about “overhauling the way we do Shakespeare” and adds “the changes will seem subtle at first, but they’ll eventually be anything but”. Well there’s not much subtle in this production.  

For once – and I trust it is an aberration – the whole amounts to less than the sum of the parts.  

– – – – – – – – – –
* Shakespeare based the central plotline of All’s Well that Ends Well on a story about Giletta of Narbonne from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, translated into English a couple of centuries later by William Painter and included in his Palace of Pleasures. Although David Lawrence discounts it, I see merit in the theory that Shakespeare first worked it up as Love’s Labours Won then put it aside until early in the 17th century when he developed it further – adding the Parolles-led subplot and renaming it All’s Well that Ends Well – to keep his public at the Globe on Bankside happy while working on the likes of Othello and King Lear for the wealthier merchant class at Blackfriars.

** Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida are commonly cited as ‘Problem Plays’ too and some scholars add The Merchant of Venice, Timon of Athens and The Winter’s Tale to the list. 


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