Jan 24

All’s not quite well in ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well is referred to as a problem comedy mostly because of its complex and ambiguous tone and its take on love and betrayal. The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ presentation of All’s Well That Ends Well as part of the High Performance Rodeo is supposed to be a different take on the play. Canadian playwright Brad Fraser adapted the script while Peter Hinton directed it. Though there are interpretations by Fraser that makes this production slightly different, the performance is ultimately weighed down by its design and script.

The Bard’s play tells of Helena (Allison Lynch), the orphan daughter of a famous physician who is taken in by the Countess of Rousillon (Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan) and is in love with her son Count Bertram (Brett Dahl). Bertram has been called to serve the King of France (John Ullyatt) and the scoundrel Parolles (Braden Griffiths) is by his side. Upon hearing that King is ill, Helena gets consent from the Countess to go to Paris to try and cure the King, and in exchange, he will marry her to any man of her choosing. She cures the King and should choose any of the other noblemen such as Dumaine (Tenaj Williams) or even the older soldier Lafew (Myron Dearden) but follows her heart and choose Bertram who rejects her, citing her status as his reason. The King forces him to accept her hand but Bertram then flees to Florence vowing to never consummate the marriage. It’s at this point that Fraser thrown in a more racy reason for Bertram’s rejection of Helena, but it doesn’t stand for the rest of the play.
Bertrand sent Helena a letter that says he will not be her husband until she is pregnant with his child and gets the family ring from him. She decides to leave for a religious pilgrimage but winds up going to Florence, where Bertrand has become a general in the army and has taken up seducing virgins. Helena tricks Bertram into sleeping with her in collaboration with Diana (Sarah Wheeldon), a virgin that Bertrand was looking to seduce. When a rumour circulates that Helena has died, Bertrand takes this as a signal that he can return home and he does. Upon his return, all is revealed.

This production is enamoured with black. Costume and set design by Deitra Kalyn are all in black, except for Parolles who sports red ribbons on his elbows and knees. The set is a black shiny underlay and props that stand bare on the stage that is set in the round. Lighting design by Anton de Groot provides pools of lights but All’s Well that Ends Well is mostly performed in the dark or in shadow. It actually makes it really hard to see anything. There is never any colour or brightness to the play and if this is what Hinton intended, it mostly left the audience squinting.

The message beneath Shakespeare’s script is problematic, especially in terms of what the characters do and say about love and betrayal. All’s Well that Ends Well is not programmed very much, given the selection of Shakespeare’s plays and it’s a bit surprising that those aspects of the script weren’t adapted or changed in some way.

The play is underscored by some strong performance, especially by Griffiths as the arrogant Parolles and Ulliatt’s King is most noteworthy. But in spite of the great performances, the production is hampered by its design and the overarching problematic message, even with Fraser’s adaption.

All’s Well that Ends Well is a bit of a disappointment in the High Performance Rodeo. The play runs until the 28th and more information is available online.

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