All’s Well That Ends Well: true to its title at Bard on the Beach

by Megan Ejack

Ahhhhh Shakespeare.  Words that have been heard a thousand times and stories that have been told for a thousand years. Every season, theatres from across the globe rifle through their repertoires and attempt to reinvent these extraordinary tales as their own.

We’ve seen it all: edgy, new concepts; displaced time-periods; music; costuming and wacky thematic ventures.  Some work, some don’t. But, with each new rendition, we honour the brilliance of dear, old Will.

Last Thursday, Bard on the Beach opened its third such endeavour this summer as it charged into its 20th season, with director Rachel Ditor’s rendition of All’s Well That Ends Well, on the Douglas Campbell Studio Stage.

Starring Lois Anderson as Helena, the orphaned daughter of a revered physician and Craig Erickson as Bertram, her unrequited love—it was a clean, straightforward presentation of what is considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”, containing elements of tragedy, drama and comedy.

Ditor’s Victorian-inspired production takes place in the France and Italy of the 1800’s, “where sensuous passions hide behind a veneer of moral propriety”; and, although the opening scene tantalized with beautiful costumes and whet our appetite for things to come, it was the second act that was much more fun.

The characters throughout were vibrant and unique, and helped the production to rise above the rather ‘traditional’ telling of this tale.  There was a charming candour to the personages that was evident in both mannerism and speech, particularly with the King of France, played by Duncan Fraser.  A dying King, too tired for airs—whose sarcastic charm and gentle humour was a refreshing depiction of royalty.

The individual scenes were engaging and fun, from the wine-induced conspiracy of the ladies, to the pseudo-kidnapping of Parolles, Bertrand’s right-hand man, by his fellow soldiers.

Far superior to all, however, was the seduction scene in the bedroom, in which Helena and her co-conspirator, Diana, played by the lovely Celine Stubel, deceive the unknowing Bertrand.  This devious ménage à trois had a grace to it in its quality of movement and flow that was… it!

It left me wanting the rest of the show to reflect the sensuality that was portrayed in this scene.

There were pieces that I loved in the life of this play: moments of genius in the minutiae, and a magic in the way that the scenes were set in a series of lovely, little vignettes.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live” (4.3.334, All’s Well That Ends Well).

Simple but clever.  And sometimes, when it comes to such a story, that can be enough.

All’s Well runs at Bard on the Beach throughout July and August, closing on September 19th at 7:00pm.

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