The Globe’s new production of ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, directed by John Dove, is a real treat, and well worth catching should you be in London over the next few months. Productions of this play are few and far between – this was only the second time I’ve seen the play on stage. There have been one or two productions that I could have seen had I made an effort, but ‘All’s Well’ has never been a play that I’ve jumped at the chance of watching. My loss! The Globe’s production drew me into a work for which I have up until now felt little admiration or warmth. This is somewhat strange - seeing that I am ordinarily drawn to Shakespeare’s darker works – preferring ‘Timon of Athens’ to say ‘Twelfth Night’.
Perhaps, like Lear, I have been too quick to judge in the past – or perhaps I have now acquired a feeling for a play that previously left me cold. Either way, I won’t be saying “I’m washing my hair” the next time I’m offered a ticket to watch the play.
Part of my pleasure came, as it often does at the Globe, from watching the spectators react to what was happening on stage. I felt that the spectators were listening more closely than usual to the actors, which was perhaps in part due to the play’s relative unfamiliarity to most audiences. I sensed an atmosphere of heightened concentration – with genuine, spontaneous laughter rather than ‘knowing’ nods of appreciation at lines which have now become ‘famous’. Perhaps it was just me, but I felt that I could sense spectators being surprised by this play, enjoying it more than perhaps they thought they would when they purchased a ticket.
How would the play end? What would Bertram say to Helena when he found out that she was still alive? I imagine the ending of ‘All’s Well’ is less familiar to most theatre-goers than say the close of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Hamlet’. As Helena appeared ghost-like before Bertram I found myself feeling much as I often have at the close of performances of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ – happy – but ‘sadder and wiser’ too.
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