One thing kept springing to mind when watching Shakespeare’s awkward comedy at the Globe last night. The book-turned-film He’s Just Not That Into You.
It is a piece of self-help literature that Helena, the heroine in All’s Well That Ends Well, ought to read. The poor girl is besotted with the playboy son of her benefactor the Countess of Roussillon, and after doing the king a favour, gets to claim him as her husband. But he doesn’t want to know.
Frankly, who would want to be frog-marched into marriage with someone you’ve had nary a date with? But that’s not to say that Bertram, the object of Helena’s desire, courts sympathy. He may not deserve to be trapped into marriage, but the way he treats Helena – and indeed all women – is equally mendacious. A randy adolescent who is too immature to settle down, he shuns Helena while seducing another woman, Diana, with no intention of being husband to either of them. But the two women hatch a plan…
In fact none of the characters in this play are particularly sympathetic. But despite this, John Dove’s upbeat production leans on the comedy to produce a jolly romp that, much like the play’s title, ignores the somewhat uncomfortable plotlines that lead to an uneasy happy ending.
The production is beautifully designed by Michael Taylor. A lovely backdrop takes the story from day into night – when the buffoon Parolles, in a subplot, is hoodwinked by his fellow courtiers – while the costumes are superb, particularly the dandyish outfits of Parolles and the sumptuous gowns worn by Janie Dee as the Countess of Rousillon.
Dee makes the role her own, combining glamour with guile as she plots to help Helena snare her son, then expressing the pain of her divided loyalties as Bertram snubs his new wife. Ellie Piercy mixes youthful naivety with steely determination as Helena, while James Garnon is a larger-then-life Parolles. Sam Cox’s King of France, rejuvenated at Helena’s hand, delivers some witty lines with aplomb.
Ending with the now traditional Globe dance-off, All’s Well That Ends Well makes for an entertaining, funny evening, even if Shakespeare makes neither men nor women come out of it very well at all.