All's Well That Ends Well | Battersea Arts Centre, London

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The Independent Culture

Alls' Wellis rarely performed and understandably so: it is a play of words among a few characters with little in the way of sub-plot and few opportunities for spectacle. It is also an uneasy comedy.

Alls' Wellis rarely performed and understandably so: it is a play of words among a few characters with little in the way of sub-plot and few opportunities for spectacle. It is also an uneasy comedy.

Shakespeare takes the common phrase and examines it closely in the frame of an old Boccaccian tale: Helena is a young woman who loves above her station, but is able to marry the object of her desires, Bertram, through rather a dirty trick. Bertram swears that although he may be husband in name, he will never bed Helena until she wears his ring and bears his child. Helena accepts the challenge and eventually Bertram is forced through the old bed-trick to acknowledge her as his wife.

The play reveals a fascination with memory and its relation to truth - and, in truth, this would be an easy production to forget. The costumes and set are minimalist, a mistake in a play which needs dressing up rather than dressing down. Herbs hang from the ceiling - a constant reminder of the one character who is absent from the play (Helena's physician father, Gerard de Narbonne) and whose mysterious potions spur the plot forward. Later, Helena, dressed in sackcloth, distributes these flowers among the audience in a manner reminiscent of Orphelia. Yet it is a false analogy, for their characters are very different.

The paucity of characters could make for a close-knit and powerful production, but Simon Godwin's direction is peculiarly listless, especially in the first half, with the only relief coming from sudden bursts of music. The doubling of Paroles and the King is interesting, however, demonstrating some unexpected similarities between the two, while the capture of Paroles has all the energy and pace which the rest of the play lacks. Joel Chalfen is a gem in the joint role of Lafew and Lavatch and Georgina Roberts an impressive Countess of Riossillion, but Rosanna Lowe plays rather an anaemic Helena and David Mitchell, as Paroles, makes a slightly disappointing show of one of Shakespeare's most comic parts.

All is well that ends well - one of Shakespeare's many ironic half-truths but one which is most fitting for this production in which the second half had some of the humour, snappiness and panache that the first lacked.

'All's Well That Ends Well' can be seen at Battersea Arts Centre main house until 6 August. Tickets cost £12.75 (£8.50 concessions). For further details contact the box office on 020-7223 2223

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