All's Well That Ends Well, NT Olivier, London
When the Rain Stops Falling, Almeida, London
Aunt Dan and Lemon, Royal Court Downstairs, London

Childish animations distract from the real magic of the text in Marianne Elliott's multimedia Shakespeare

You might think it was a show for six-years-olds. Behind the turrets of a witchy black castle, cartoon animals keep popping up on the projected backdrop. Eek, a big spider, howling wolves, a blinking owl. This is Scooby-Doo, right? No, it's Shakespeare's challenging problem play, All's Well That Ends Well, staged by the NT's associate director Marianne Elliott. Courtesy of her multimedia design team, it often looks like kidult entertainment, going straight to DVD.

The animations are condescending and unimpressive. They also distract from the seriously magical moment when Michelle Terry's lowly yet aspiring Helena – determined to save the dying King of France (excellent Oliver Ford Davies) – proffers a potion and soothing words which entrance him. Certainly fairy-tale elements are at work in All's Well. Marina Warner's programme note pinpoints the twists Shakespeare applies to folkloric motifs, especially his fusions of good and bad female archetypes. Clare Higgins picks up on that, as the Countess who employs the orphaned Helena. As she questions the young woman – discerning a secret yearning for her aristocratic son, Bertram – Higgins is mercurial, flicking back and forth between wicked queen and fairy godmother with real psychological complexity.

Here is also a socially radical Helena. Looking like a dowdy Victorian housemaid, Terry mournfully alludes to her humble stock. Yet she has forceful assurance and hurdles hierarchical barriers. Having cured the King, she gets to choose her husband from his corralled nobles.

George Rainsford's callow Bertram is strikingly aghast to find himself forced into this arranged marriage. He runs away to the wars, accompanied by a cowardly braggart, Conleth Hill's Parolles. So, there are some admirable actors here, but dull patches. Rainsford might intensify Bertram's arrogance, and Terry's bed trick – trapping him a second time – could be more morally disturbing.

And, again, the design team do not help. Why must Helena and her colluding body double dress up in tarty pussy-cat outfits for a naff silhouetted seduction scene? And Bertram must be blind not to recognise that the massive, blue, glow-in-the-dark ring, which he's given as a token, is his wife's. Stone the crows!

The gently mournful family saga When the Rain Stops Falling holds out the hope that all may still end well, even after eight decades of sorrowful aberrations. This drama by Australia's Andrew Bovell (co-author of Strictly Ballroom) charts the variously intertwined and estranged lives of four generations.

Ranging in time and place from London in 1959 to Alice Springs in 2039, it's a story of troubled couples, tragically lost loved ones and distant parents. Anxieties about child abuse are buried under the surface, although the journey taken by Andrew – the son in the last generation – tentatively points towards redemption, or at least to re-established connections and some understanding of what's past.

Yet the play isn't immediately winning. Richard Hope's initial appearance as the down-at-heel loner, Gabriel York – surrounded by milling strangers with umbrellas – looks choreographically passé, like some mime festival show from the 1980s. When York screams and a fish falls from the sky, it appears we're in for an evening of whimsy and thudding religious symbols. Then Bovell makes his characters tiresomely repeat each other's lines, in different eras.

And yet, by degrees, each of their stories becomes poignant. Structurally, too, Bovell displays a light touch, interweaving past, present and future, so that they all seem to haunt each other. And you only see the whole picture at the close, like a solution found for an elaborate puzzle.

Michael Attenborough's ensemble proves quietly engrossing. Phoebe Nicholls is bruisingly unmaternal as the older Elizabeth: a damaged soul, emotionally frozen over. By contrast, Tom Mison is beautifully tender as her frustrated son, who flees and finds romance in the Australian wilderness with Naomi Bentley's tough but yearning Gabrielle. A slow burn.

Finally, the Royal Court's season dedicated to the American Wallace Shawn has been up and down, to put it mildly. Aunt Dan and Lemon (from 1985) descends swiftly into pointless, self-indulgent rambling.

Dominic Cooke's cast does its best. Jane Horrocks's wide-eyed narrator, the oddly named Lemon (an old nickname) steps back into her childhood. She recalls how her parents' intellectual friend, Lorraine Ashbourne's swish Dan, told her inappropriate bedtime stories: tales of her boho sex life and femme-fatale friend, Mindy. We see Mindy strangling a guy with her stockings.

Between these unpleasant lurid digressions, Aunt Dan launches into endless raving panegyrics about Henry Kissinger using aggression in Vietnam. I guess this fits Cooke's agenda of exposing the dark side of superficial lefties, but what a drag!

A host of actors, with bit parts, skulk in the alcoves of Lemon's attic. Eternally hoping Shawn might remember to bring them back into play, they glance plaintively at those punters who – unable to tolerate the boredom – scramble for the sighing exit doors.



'All's Well That Ends Well' (020-7452 3000) to 11 Jul; 'When the Rain Stops Falling' (020-7359 4404) to 4 Jul; 'Aunt Dan and Lemon' (020-7565 5000) to 27 Jun

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor