All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare, Jermyn Street Theatre, 16 B Jermyn Street, London SW1 to 30 November 2019. 4****. William Russell

All’s Well That Ends Well
By William Shakespeare
Jermyn Street Theatre, 16 B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST to 30 November 2019.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Tues & Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2835.
Review: William Russell 8 November.

To stage this rarely performed comedy with a cast of six is pretty daring, but director Tom Littler has pulled it off almost to perfection aided by a first rate cast. It is set some time in the 1960s or thereabouts and two pianos, which Stefan Bednarczyk and Cery-Lyn Cissone play in addition to their roles, provide most of the background music by the likes of Fleetwood Mac or Patti Smith. The result is to sweep a plot, in which the sexual politics are really not acceptable today, along quite beautifully. Helena and Bertram were brought up together by his mother, the Countess of Roussillon. She loves Bertram; he likes her a lot but is a young man far more interested in sowing wild oats. Marriage is the last thing on his mind, whereas she thinks of nothing else. Helena has medical skills and the Countess sends her to court to cure the Queen – the King in Shakespeare’s play, but a sex change dictated by the demands of the casting and one which does upset the balance of the play slightly as it reduces the role of the Countess, one senior Shakespearian actresses love to play. For the King to offer any bride he wants to Bertram makes sense in a world dominated by men, but is less convincing when promised by a Queen. The one Shakespeare knew, after all, kept fanciable young men for herself.
Helena, being a single minded young woman, chooses Bertram, much to his dismay. He promptly takes flight to the wars in Italy along with his friend Paroles, a layabout of the first order and one of the few Shakespearian clowns who, in the right hands, can be very funny. Helena sets off in pursuit. There are misunderstandings, people are supposed to have died, there is a confusion of rings and Bertram ends up sleeping not with the pretty young miss he fancies but Helena. When all is revealed he decides to make the best of it and wedding bells ring out for the would-be rake and his now pregnant wife. In other words the happy ending is distinctly suspect. There is some sightly confusing adaptation – the opening does leave one wondering just what is going on as Helena plays loud music on her record player and swigs from a bottle of wine while going through a box of mementos – but in time the play proper takes over and the plot becomes clear
Hannah Morrish makes the predatory Helena sufficiently enchanting to dispel any thoughts of this is a stalker in the making, while the lanky and saturnine Robert Mountford is very funny as the cowardly and rather camp Paroles – he has some terrific business with assorted scarves he wants to wear – and his cowardly crumbling when he reveals the army’s plans to a fake captor is hilarious. Gavin Fowler creates a splendid young pup out for some fun, all Bullingdon Club swagger, and his terror when he sees the prison gates of marriage looming is hilariously portrayed. The rest of the cast are just as good, with Miranda Foster doing an effective triple act as the Queen, the Countess and the Florentine widow with the daughter Bertram wants to bed.
It was a bold venture to put the piece on in the tiny Jermyn Street, and the set designers, Neil Irish and Anett Black, have come up with a handsome set which adapts smoothly to the demands of the tale. It could have been a night to forget, but all ended very well indeed. Torn about the stars to award, but since they are climbing a mountain under hazardous conditions four it is.
Helena: Hannah Morrish.
Bertram: Gavin Fowler.
The Countess, the Queen and the Widow: Miranda Foster.
Parolles: Robert Mountford.
Diana, Dumaine, Pianist: Ceri-Lyn Cissone.
Lafew, Bertrams father, Pianist: Stefan Bednarczyk.

Director: Tom Littler.
Set & Costume Designers: Neil Irish & Anett Black.
Lighting Designer: Mark Dymock.
Sound Designer: Matt Eaton.
Musical Arranger: Stefan Bednarczyk.
Movement Director: Cydney Uffindell-Phillips.
Photographer: Matt Pereira.

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