A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!



All's Well That Ends Well


Ellie Piercy as Helena and Sam Crane as Bertram in All's Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare's Globe

Photo by Ellie Kurtz

by William Shakespeare

Director: John Dove


Designer: Michael Taylor


Composer: William Lyons


Shakespeare’s Globe


27 April – 21 August 2011



If you look up into the rafters of Shakespeare’s Globe this season, you may notice the little blackbirds that have made a nest under the roof of the theatre. Indifferent to the passage of time or the drama unfolding on stage, the blackbirds swoop over the audience as they did, back in Shakespeare's day and out, up into the clear night. Same blackbirds, different generation, same characters, different cast. So continues our eternal love affair with the world’s greatest playwright. But tonight, for the very first time since its reconstruction, the Globe echoes with the words of one of his lesser known offspring - All's Well That Ends Well.

The King of France (Sam Cox) is ill, yet when Helena, (Ellie Piercy) the daughter of his deceased physician, cures him, he allows her any wish. She chooses the handsome nobleman, Bertram, (Sam Crane), haughty son of the Countess of Roussillon (Janie Dee) to be her husband. Shocked and unwilling, Bertram rushes off with his foppish sidekick, Parolles (James Garnon) to fight in the wars and avoid further embarrassment. Helena however, is not so easily deterred and she follows him to Florence where she disguises herself as Bertram's new love Diana (Naomi Cranston) in order to take his ring, the symbol of his love and get herself pregnant. Extreme measures you might think. And so they return to France, where Bertram's lies are exposed and he becomes honour bound to accept his fate, all under the watchful eye of the King.

Implicit in the title All's Well That Ends Well is the suggestion that the ends justify the means, that Helena's feisty efforts to procure the man of her dreams are warranted. Yet Ellie Piercy's Helena is not an emancipated, free spirited woman, but rather an uncertain young girl who may be in lust rather than in love. Piercy's expressive eyebrows and baleful eyes are heavy with doubt, her body language infused with a gulping desire to possess Bertram. She stands before him meekly protesting, hunched forwards, her black corset sucked in, humbled in prostration and trembling in the face of his ambivalence. Piercy embodies Helena's doubt most effectively, her very lips quivering as if at any moment she could crumble under the pressure of her unrequited feelings.  Sam Crane affects Bertram's snobbish disdain and reluctance with natural ease; the excruciating thought of being married to the daughter of a doctor, bringing an amusingly agonized look to his face.

Yet it is James Garnon who steals the show in a magnificent performance as the braggart,   Parolles. Shakespeare's language in All's Well… is full of oxymorons and dualities, and Parolles becomes a physical manifestation of these duplicities. As the straight talking, old friend of the King, Lafeu (Michael Bertenshaw) states, “this man's soul is his clothes”. And what sumptuous clothes they are, such as to make a peacock jealous. As Garnon struts across the stage in an ornate feathered hat, he poses as the valiant soldier, conqueror of women's beds, yet when he is forced by Bertram to go and fetch his drum from behind enemy lines, he becomes a jumpy, nerve addled coward, who can no more pretend to hurt his finger than he would damage his clothes. Garnon is hilarious, a giant presence on the stage, enjoyably berated by Bertenshaw's, Lafeu. Bertenshaw is excellent, full of the old chivalric values that the young Bertram and Parolles feign to embody in their glorious capes and codpieces, insubstantial as their scruples. Sam Cox as the King of France with his hawk eyes and omnipotent airs dominates the affairs with a commanding voice, capable of evoking the comedy of his confusion, as the two suitors play a game of cat and mouse, with the mouse chasing the cat.

The sumptuous Jacobean costumes are a wonder to behold, and at times the play feels as much a fashion show as it is a work of art. The set is simply furnished, with the garlanded, soot black pillars providing fertile hiding places for the hoodwinking of Parolles. The simple, sketched backdrop of a pastoral landscape is neatly folded over into a night scene of the same image, complete with fairy lights for stars. The effect is quietly atmospheric as the natural light of the sky fades into twilight. Pomp and ceremony is subtly added with the inclusion of chamber music playing from the balcony.

This production of All's Well That Ends Well is a fantastic opportunity to catch a rarely seen play in its natural habitat, as Shakespeare had intended it. Not only is this a brilliantly acted production with an ensemble cast of world class talent, it is also thrillingly brought to life through its lavish period dress. Garnon is a jewel in an already star studded crown, his ribaldry and cowardice are hysterically amusing contrasts which Dove exploits to the full. The result is a performance that would have had Shakespeare chuckling from beyond the tomb, as the oohs and aahs of the audience's edge of seat involvement mingle with the ghosts of Jacobean spectators guffawing and tomato tossing in the stalls. Whether they’re tears of laughter or emotion, I guarantee by the end of this performance, your “eyes will smell onions.”


James Garan as Parolles in All's Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare's Globe

Photo by Ellie Kurtz

Shakespeare’s Globe
21 New Globe Walk
27 April – 21 August
£5.00 - £37.50
BOX OFFICE 020 7401 9919


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