The Shakespeare Company’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well has a good grasp of the difficult language of Shakespeare, but is still not without it’s problems. Thinking back, I can begin to piece together the story of a girl from a lower class, allowed by the king to marry a count, who then flees the marriage. During the play, however, I was genuinely confused; the details of the play and even the names of most characters were lost on me. Having never read All’s Well That Ends Well beforehand I wondered if maybe I should have. Seeing as this particular play is not one of Shakespeare’s more well known, and is considered to be one of his “Problem Plays,” I can begin to understand why it was so difficult for me to follow.
The complex plots of Shakespearean comedy, especially problem plays, require great attention to make sense. If the text and action is not clear, the plot is lost. I was consistently wondering about the relationships between characters; After reading All’s Well That Ends Well, I discovered it was a directing choice to make Bertram sexually attracted to men, and at the end, a woman. I found this problematic, not only because it looked as though Peter Hinton included a token gay character, but also because it made the plot confusing. In the original text, Bertram denies Helena because she in unattractive. In the production she is denied because of Bertram’s attraction to Parolles. This was confusing because later on Bertram becomes infatuated with a woman. I believe, if they had remained true to the text, the plot would have been clearer.
The winding web of a storyline aside, the actors did a brilliant job in mastering the dense Elizabethan language, with help of text coach Kevin McKendrick. I found the diction in this play to be very precise and the character of Parolles (played by Braden Griffiths) was particularly interesting to me. Griffiths seems to have understood the text quite well, otherwise the many jokes of Paroles would have fallen flat, particularly on a contemporary crowd. However, I found it difficult to connect with the leads Bertram (Brett Dahl) and Helena (Allison Lynch), which I suspect was the result of not understanding the plot.
I found there was many elements of Peter Hinton’s directing that was effective and consistent. I found the blocking to be especially effective, which had to accommodate for the in-the-round seating. There was no point where I could not see an actor for a significant amount of time, and when I did not see an actor because of their position on stage, I could always see someone else in the scene. Seeing as in-the-round is less common in contemporary theatre, it was a nice change from proscenium arch staging, and presents a challenge for actors, directors and even audience members.
Though beautiful, I found the lighting to be problematic at times, and often found it difficult to see much of the action. There was a heavy use of spotlights in this show, and while that can be visually stunning, if an actor is not directly in the spotlights, their faces were not seen. The last scene before intermission is one that stuck out for me, being lit by approximately two lights with gobos to break the light up into small spots, and a candelabra with five candles on it. It was aesthetically beautiful, but I was unable to see most of the actors faces. I enjoyed the costumes, not only because they looked unified, but also because you often see directors and designers use colour in Shakespeare as a tool to help the audience remember which character is which.
Looking at another Shakespeare play, If I were to stage Titus Andronicus I would try to remain true to the text for major plot points. If I were to make cuts, it would be to sections that don’t alter the action of the play, and any major character choices, such as Bertram being attracted to men, I would try to make sure it makes sense given the text. I believe that as a director it is not my right to rewrite the play, but make choices in adapting it.
If given the opportunity to stage Titus Andronicus in The Shakespeare Company’s space “The Studio”, I would use a thrust staging, instead of in-the-round, not only because Shakespearean plays were originally staged in a thrust(The Globe Theatre), but also because it is easier to block the show. In-the-round has a very specific blocking technique, whereas thrust staging is simpler, because of it’s back wall.
When it comes to the design elements, I found the light in All’s Well to be quite beautiful. I would adapt this interesting style to be more practical, so that visibility isn’t such a problem. I also found the single colour of costumes(apart from Parolles) to be an interesting choice, but I would change this colour to white, not only for visibilities sake, but also for stark contrast of white costume against the black walls of a black-box theatre space.
Casting this particular show in Calgary, I think I would want to use local actors in order to support the developing theatre arts community here. A good fit for Titus, would be Haysam Kadri, and Natasha Strickey would be well cast as his daughter Lavinia. I also think that Karl Sine could work well as Titus’ brother, since Kadri and Sine already have a close relationship. As well, I would cast Anna Cummer as Tamora and Tenaj Williams as Aaron. I also think it is important that for a professional production of a classical play, you have actors that know how to tackle the dense and seemingly foreign language, and all of the actors I have chosen have at some point, worked for the Shakespeare Company on a classical production.