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All's Well That Ends Well - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Labelled as one of the 'problem plays' the Royal Shakespeare Company stage a new production of All's Well That Ends Well to complete their 10-year plan to create a visual record of Shakespeare's cannon.

Director Blanche McIntyre cleverly brings the piece in to a modern setting with numerous uses of social media, mobile phones, drones and more. It's an enjoyable performance that sweeps on by.

Rosie Sheehy (Helena), Bruce Alexander (King of France) and Benjamin Westerby (Bertram). Photo by Ikin Yum

It's not hard to see why the play is given the 'problem' label. The central characters of Helena and Bertram aren't really a pair you sympathise with. There's a great article in the show programme by Dr. Erin Sullivan that discusses the characters, it balances that Helena is a trail-blazing character, and she certainly is but also touches on the difficulty of the text.

The show follows the aforementioned Helena, an orphaned daughter of a physician who has been adopted by the Countess of Rossillion. Helena is in love with the Countess' son, Bertram. With The King of France seriously ill Helena uses one of her late father's remedies to heal him. The King makes a full recovery and offers to grant any wish Helena could ask. Helena asks for Bertram's hand in marriage and the King consents but Bertram refuses and is furious that he'd be forced into marriage. So furious that he sneaks away to fight in the Italian wars. 

It's here where we get the most difficult part of the piece. Helena travels to Florence and sees that Bertram is infatuated with a local girl, Diana. In this production at a rave, Helena and Diana both wear luminous green wigs and swap as an unsuspected Bertram is duped into sex with Helena without his consent. The consequences of this unravel in the final scenes of the piece.

On top of this, you have a Malvolio-esque side plot (which at times feels like the main plot) with Parolles, played by a tremendous Jamie Wilkes. Parolles is this loud-mouthed cocky soldier who is constantly covering up that he is a great wimp. His constant lies and excuses see him captured and blindfolded by those he presumes are the enemy but in fact, is a plot by his own side to ridicule him. 

The Parolles plot certainly adds humour and Wilkes plays it superbly throughout. There are some fantastic little moments of audience interaction and some great physical work that Wilkes thrives in. He also thrives in the touching side of the character as post-torture as he is completely unravelled.

Jamie Wilkes (Parolles). Photo by Ikin Yum

Rosie Sheehy's stock continues to rise after an outstanding performance as King John pre-COVID and once more she is superb here as Helena. The stature and emotion she brings to a role make her mesmerising to watch. Benjamin Westerby does a great job with Bertram, probably the most cardboard of the characters in the play. Westerby is a warm presence and plays against Sheehy well. 

There are some wonderful supporting performances including Bruce Alexander's King of France, Claire Benedicts Countess, Will Edgerton as Lavache and Olivia Onyehara as Diana. It's another strong assembled company of actors, many of whom also appear in the season's other play, Richard III. 

Robert Innes Hopkins has opted for a fairly blank canvas of a set with the use of an elevated platform that is often kept hidden behind curtains at the back of the stage that becomes the French court. Richard Howell's lighting and Gregory Clarke's sound both impress particularly in the war sequences and in the rave scene. 

Whilst this may not be one of Shakespeare's best masterpieces, with its difficult-to-like characters and wafer-thin plot, under Blanche McIntyre the modern set production is surely one of the better re-inventions of the play in recent times. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

All's Well That Ends Well plays at The Royal Shakespeare Company alongside Richard III until Saturday 8th October. Tickets are available from

The cast of All's Well That Ends Well. Photo by Ikin Yum

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