Review: All’s Well That End’s Well

There’s a reason Shakespearean repertory theatre company Sport for Jove got all those awards earlier this year at the Sydney Theatre Awards. Look yonder oh thy good souls of Sydney and look well, for before ye stands the new rock star theatre company of our times.

All's Well That Ends Well. Image by Seiya Taguchi.
All’s Well That Ends Well. Image by Seiya Taguchi.

Sport for Jove is presently presenting a double bill at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. Taking the thrust stage of the York Theatre (in an intimate mode I didn’t even know existed) they are presenting Twelfth Night and All’s Well That End’s Well. I was lucky enough to see the latter on Saturday night, and it’s not hyperbole to say that the production on offer is about as perfect as a production of Shakespeare can be. Funny, irreverent, dark, dangerous, dramatic, cheeky, risky, angry, violent and sexual – this production of All’s Well That Ends Well is everything that it can be and everything that it should be. With pitch perfect direction by Damien Ryan, explosive lighting by Toby Knyvett and a set by Antoinette Barboutis that has to be seen for its brilliance to be credited; this so called “problem play” by Shakespeare becomes a veritable blockbuster of action and emotion without once sacrificing the elegance of the prose.

Count Bertram Rousillon is a young, French aristocrat – the audience enters to find him passed out in bed in customary teenage repose – and despite his obvious charm and good looks and the advantages of his right by birth to nobility and wealth, he has a great deal to learn about life. Enter Helena, a fine young lady of good standing but possessed of neither wealth nor nobility and the action is off and running, for though Helena understands she can never lay claim to the gorgeous Bertram, she’s cunning enough to try and snare him anyway.

All's Well That Ends Well. Image by Seiya Taguchi.
All’s Well That Ends Well. Image by Seiya Taguchi.

This parable of greed, lust and desire is a tricky one to stage and no doubt about that. A rollicking firestorm of wit in one scene, flip ahead to the next and death and betrayal are around the corner with the language of the Bard plunging head first into the emotions of loss and despair. This production weathers the storm so successfully in part because it obeys the language so very well, but also because it refuses to skimp on humanity. Though the characters make some emotional leaps from scene to scene, they always take time to let the audience savor the experience right alongside the cast. Crisp and clear, the language of Shakespeare – impenetrable sludge to some, magic to others – is king on this stage. Not an instance passes where you do not absolutely believe what the cast are feeling, thinking, saying or doing. It’s a roller coaster ride a Scorsese film would envy, and, it fits the subject beautifully.

[pull_left]This is that vital and incendiary Shakespeare that never seems to materialize in High School and which so many other productions manage to forsake so busy are they with ruffs and gowns and skulls[/pull_left]

It’s difficult to speak of stand outs in the cast without simply listing them and raving about their merits. Not a single performance feels astray. Special mention, though, to Robert Alexander and Sandra Eldridge as the King of France and Countess Rousillon. They are the noble bookends to the entire plot and their performances have a keenness and a grandeur that is a treasure to behold in itself. Of the leads, Francesca Savige stands out as Helena, a young woman on a mission, she invests Helena with purpose and an intellect that defies the seemingly simple motive of a young woman trying to marry well. A round of applause also for her three enabling co-conspirators, Eloise Winestock, Teresa Jackovich and Megan Drury as the ladies of Florence. Also a solid doffing of caps to George Banders, who manages to invest his thankless charlatan character Parolles with actual depth.

In short Sydney, get ye tickets and get ye gone to the Seymour Centre. A true treasure of the theatre lies within. This is that vital and incendiary Shakespeare that never seems to materialize in High School and which so many other productions manage to forsake so busy are they with ruffs and gowns and skulls. This is theatre that makes the pulse quicken and the extremities tingle. This is soft kisses, hard bodies, bloody battlefields and dark investigations of the nasty and inexplicable human soul; what we want, what we need and what we will do to get them. This is Shakespeare.

All's Well That Ends Well
Details
Company: Sport for Jove
Review Date: 29 March 2014
Venue: Seymour Centre
Closing Date: April 12

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David has written 179 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by