Monday, 6 July 2009
All's Well That Ends Well, National Theatre, June 2009
If earlier this year I thought that RSC's Taming of The Shrew as seen in the Novello Theatre was at fault of trying to hard to offer a radical version of the play and in the process losing its soul and coming up with a repulsive, hard-to-watch reading of the story, I think Marianne Elliot's version of All's Well That Ends Well goes too much the other way and comes across as too bland.
It feels as if much of the effort went into the over-cute set design and little into the actual exploration of the text. It's not an easy play, sure enough. It's uneven and at parts weak and complex. But it can be done. Years ago I saw a perfectly decent version of it, directed by Greg Doran with Judi Dench and Guy Henry. I did appreciate the beauty of the decoration and animations and I liked the fairytale high concept of the NT production but this theme was not in any way reflected in the acting.
Michelle Terry, who was so brilliant in the Bush's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover seemed unenergetic as Helena. We try to sympathize with her but her blandness makes it hard. She is a charismatic actress so Helena's weakness is all the more dissapointing, at least for me. She would be likeable enough if the rest of the cast could have been a little bit stronger as well. But George Rainsford was an insipid Bertram - it's hard enough to feel any pity for this character as it is in the text but add it a half-heartedly performance and the result is disastrous. But the worst dissapointment of all was Parolles, a role I love dearly and I remember Guy Henry being absolutely excellent in, but in this case I felt Conleth Hill was absolutely destroying the part. Mostly because he was not charming. Parolles is a sleazy, selfish ass but as with many of this type of characters in Shakespeare, he is terribly charming, appealing. None of his appeal was present in the National Theatre's version.
The National Theatre is always a hit and miss business, with more miss than hits, to be honest, at least in the Oliver and Lyttleton stages (the Cottesloe usually offers more interesting productions) but All's Well That Ends Well is possibly my least liked play of all those I've seen in this venue.
You can check what other people have thought about it:
The Guardian Review.
The Times Review.
The Independent Review.