We've been on a bit of a Shakespeare kick lately and so we decided to check out Marianne Elliott's take on All's Well That Ends Well, which is currently playing at the National Theatre. All's Well tends to be one of those plays with which we either have an attached fondness or have developed a sense of 'meh, which one is that again?' In case you've forgotten, it's the one in which the female lead has to trick her prattish husband into sleeping with her. Although Elliott has clearly put forth a strong effort into spicing up a rather complex work, we didn't manage to push ourselves beyond that sense of 'meh'.
This particular play is meant to continuously keep us on our toes-are we watching a comedy or some twisted tragedy? The final scene should leave us surprisingly unsatisfied. However, the set's dark and looming castle towers (which looked perfect for King Lear), as well as a highly emotional cast, left little room for uncertainty. We immediately knew that this story was not going to end perfectly well for the distraught Helena (Michelle Terry). Any attempts at humour, mostly conducted by Parrolles (Conleth Hill), seemed forced and rarely managed to provoke more than a few chuckles here and there.
Despite being visually stunning, the set and costumes provided far too many distractions, which created a sense of inconsistency rather than bewilderment. In the second half, Diana (Hasina Haque) and Helena each appear in silhouette, dressed in cat outfits, to seduce and trick Bertram (George Rainsford). The scene, which involved the ever chaste Diana blindfolding Bertram and Helena later revealing a feather, was sensually romantic and emphasized Haque's sleek figure instead of Helena's cunning ploy.
It is well worth noting that members of a different (and possibly older) generation did appear to thoroughly enjoy the show. This is certainly well-spoken and clearly enunciated Shakespeare at its finest. Michael Thomas as Lord Lafew and Clare Higgins as Countess of Rossillion stand out as two of the cast's strongest players. Although we didn't care much for this interpretation, it might be a good choice for parents, other visiting relatives, or lovers of fairy-tale inspired set design.
All's Well That Ends Well is playing at the National Theatre until September 30. For more info, visit the National Theatre's website. Photos by Simon Annand.