All’s Well That Ends Well – Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Andrew Hilton
Reviewer: Claire Hayes


All’s Well That Ends Well is the second play in Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s season commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Following on from Hamlet, and again co-produced with Tobacco Factory Theatres, this difficult, lesser-performed comedy has been rewritten in parts by Dominic Power, moving its action to the mid-19th Century and reimagining some of its characters.

At the dark heart of this problem play is the uneasy union of doctor’s daughter Helena and Bertram, son of the Count Rossillion. Its central characters don’t emerge from the relationship covered in glory; neither Bertram, who is given to Helena as husband by the King of France and runs away to war to escape her, nor Helena in the trickery she employs to win him back.

Eleanor Yates as Helena is earnest and determined; in the certainty of her desires and how to fulfil them, she shines as a woman potentially ahead of her time – beloved, it seems, by all apart from Bertram. Yet, in her purity of spirit, she also seems to lack the complexity required to descend into deceit. Craig Fuller as Bertram succeeds on the whole in treading a difficult line, having to be worthy of the virtuous Helena’s love and yet equally willing to reject her for lack of status. Instead, he pursues the life of a single man intent on proving his own masculinity – although his hopeless dilemma as victim of the King of France’s commands could be expanded upon.

Paul Currier is pitch-perfect in bringing out all the foppish comedy of the braggart soldier, Parolles, and the scene of his downfall, as he is exposed as a coward and unwittingly betrays each of his compatriots to their face, is one of the highlights. Isabella Marshall, who portrayed Ophelia so convincingly in Hamlet, is again outstanding as Diana, the Florentine maid favoured by Bertram, who conspires with Helena to deceive him with the infamous bed-trick.

Lavatch, played by Marc Geoffrey – a clown in Shakespeare’s original play – for some reason becomes Bertram’s music and dancing master, although the inclusion of ballads and a pavane are a nice touch. Max Johns’ staging is once again minimal, leaving it to Elizabeth Purnell’s sound design and Matthew Graham’s lighting to provide an effective contrast between the scenes at court and war.

Overall, Power’s changes to the text have the effect of drawing out the comedy and transforming Shakespeare’s original into a more upbeat, less equivocal piece. That this glosses over some of the more complex moral issues that provide the substance of All’s Well That Ends Well is disappointing, but it does add to Andrew Hilton’s renowned clarity of story-telling and the ultimate entertainment value of the play.

Runs until 23 April 2016 (in repertoire with Hamlet 28 – 30 April 2016)| Image: Mark Douet

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub


User Rating: 2.6 ( 2 votes)

The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

One Comment

  1. It’s Shakespeare, Jim, but not as we know it.

    I failed to realise that slipping in to the publicity that this was a “new” production actually meant “significantly re-written”. I’m not a Shakespeare fundamentalist, but felt rather duped by what was actually an adaptation that significantly changed the emphasis of the play. Totally rewriting the part of Lavatch may not be a bad idea – it’s a pretty incomprehensible and unfunny part for a modern audience – but that presumes that the rewritten material is an improvement and relevant. A few more laughs yes, but making Lavatch also apparently fall in love with Helen and then go mad was just out-Shakespearing Shakespeare, and added nothing to the plot. Why not just cut entirely ?

    More questionable is the additional text given to Bertram’s making him repentant and ultimately agreeing to marry Helen with good grace, something he shows little sign of in the original text. Surely Shakespeare is clashing the fairy-tale elements of the story against reality as he deliberately chose to depict an ungracious Bertram and an ambiguous, uncomfortable ending. The happy-ever-after denouement here – surely the play’s title is ironic – just made it sentimental. Where was the drive to tackle the gender, class and unrequited love issues that Shakespeare was trying, albeit with some lack of coherence, to explore ? No-one would claim this is anywhere near Shakespeare’s best work, but this production just produced a rather meaningless fairly-tale, with the re-written ending failing to convince in any case.

    A wasted opportunity for this excellent company. Well acted for sure, but not Shakespeare.

Back to top button