“All’s Well That Ends Well”, an RSC production at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle begin November
What on earth was Shakespeare thinking, when he took the story about a tricked marriage from Boccaccio’s Decamerone and put it into his incomparable verse?
You might wonder whether he himself had doubts if people were going to buy the plot, when listening to Helena, the female lead, explaining her hidden feelings.
There is no envying Joanna Horton for this scene. Helena seems to rather want to be hiding behind the Countess’s (Charlotte Cornwell), her foster mother’s, potted plants, and yet she has to argue her case before the world, why she wants this particular man who is such a bad match for her. You’d like to tell her there are other mothers with interesting sons.
Helena loves her ward’s son, Bertram, who isn’t interested in her.
Alex Waldmann as Bertram, manages to look not a day older than 16, when, as a happy puppy, he is frolicking around with his mates, doesn’t know how to react to his father’s death, and casually moves to the King’s court.
Now Helena takes an initiative that seems a big leap for her character; upon hearing about the King’s (Greg Hicks) illness, she understands that she will be in a position to claim a favour, if she cures him.
Greg Hicks’ part is intriguing and has its strongest moments in the King’s illness. When recovered, well, he’s kingly. Greg Hicks is good at that.
When Helena’s plan works out, due to a miraculous medicine, and she is married to the puppy, the young and, understandably, rather frustrated husband, escapes to the wars, the bigger boys’ playground.
Impressively staged: Bertram’s changing into the uniform and the magnificently reduced fight scenes.
Helena, now deeply frustrated herself, follows Bertram to the city of his garrison, disguised as a pilgrim. Young Diana (fabulous: Natalie Klamar), to whom Bertram has been making advances, plots with Helena, invites him to her bedroom, where Helena, in darkness and without speaking, succeeds in getting pregnant by him.
This second ambush finally has Bertram defeated, he promises eternal love.
A likely result … Shakespeare himself seems happy to sow some doubt regarding lasting success. The King closes his part with the words:
“All yet seems well; and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.” 5.3.43
In an era when marriages for romantic reasons were far from being standard, these doubts must have worked in an even more conniving way than they do today. It was a difficult source material for a difficult comedy. Comedy? Truly Shakespeare.
This is a play that isn’t staged very often, and, even in this great production by Nancy Meckler, the plot feels strangely awkward.
Kudos to Joanna Horton, Alex Waldmann, Jonathan Slinger, Charlotte Cornwall, Natalie Klamar, Karen Archer, David Fielder and all the others who made this production well worth seeing and food for thought.
All’s Well will be on stage at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle from 5 – 9 November.
photos by: Ellie Kurttz