All’s Well That Ends Well
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 8th November 2019
“Ceri-Lyn Cissone steals the comedic limelight with her natural gift and assorted accents”
“All’s Well That Ends Well” has always been one of Shakespeare’s least performed works. Classified as one of his ‘problem plays’ it shifts between comedy, fantasy and psychological drama. The evidence that Shakespeare intended it to be a comedy is in the happy ending, as the title would suggest. Criticised as being a rather contrived and truncated conclusion, Tom Littler’s inventive production at the Jermyn Street Theatre adds a subtle twist that instils a touch of much needed pathos.
The action is transposed to 1970s London, Paris and Florence. When his Bertram’s father dies, he rejects his friends, abandons his mother, and flees his childhood home. But the orphaned Helena, in love with him since childhood, refuses to give up hope. Following in her father’s footsteps, she becomes a doctor, saves a monarch’s life, and crosses half of Europe in the passionate pursuit of her happiness.
This is an intimate production, scaled down to a cast of six. The setting is evoked more by the soundtrack than Neil Irish and Anett Black’s slightly baffling set design. Predominated by Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ album from the mid seventies, the music is intercut with live piano accompaniment – a leitmotif echoing the iconic riffs of the recorded music. Stefan Bednarczyk and Ceri-Lyn Cissone duet and duel on a pair of upright pianos, seamlessly weaving in and out of the action. Bednarczyk’s arrangements underscore not just the dialogue but the emotional core of the characters that is often lost in the delivery.
The crux is persuading the audience why Helena should be so in love with the outwardly unloveable Bertram. Gavin Fowler shows us a chink in the armour of his roguish indifference to Helena that sheds a ray of hope. We’re not sure that Helena sees this, but her dogged determination to bag her man is matched by Hannah Morrish’s solid performance. Multi-rolling Miranda Foster delivers the most emotional punch as Helena’s newly widowed mother and the ailing Queen (normally a king) of France. Cured from her illness by Helena, Foster is like a starry-eyed convert before reclaiming her steely grasp on the proceedings.
But all in all, much of the musicality of Shakespeare’s language is missing, and the rhythm often fails to ignite the frequent tongue-twisters and tricks of the dialogue. The plot is slight so it’s all in the text which doesn’t always match the magic created by the musical atmosphere.
But what does shine is the comedy, and the torchbearers are the peripheral characters. Robert Mountford’s swaggering Parolles is a gust of fresh air as he relishes his cowardly downfall, while Ceri-Lyn Cissone steals the comedic limelight with her natural gift and assorted accents.
With themes of social mobility, deception and sexual misconduct that are still relevant today, this is a play that mixes dark fairytale with light humour; but, despite moments of magic, the peaks and troughs are never fully reached.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Matt Pereira
All’s Well That Ends Well
Jermyn Street Theatre until 30th November 2019
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: