REVIEW: All’s Well That Ends Well, Royal Shakespeare Company, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

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THE final production of this year’s Royal Shakespeare Company season in the North East certainly seems to live up to its name.

All’s Well That Ends Well is for me the cream of this year’s crop, a riveting production propelling the audience through what is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known and least-performed works.

Despite its title having made it into common parlance, opportunities to see the play are few - there isn’t even a screen adaptation featuring Kenneth Brannagh.

Some sources claim its plot, themes and script are seen as problematic for audiences and theatre companies.

But there was no hint of that here, with a seamless production managing to keep me awake and engaged despite being dead on my feet with tiredness when I arrived at the theatre.

Helena (Joanna Horton) is a gifted, loving daughter of a late physician who falls in love with the son of her adoptive mother.

But the objective of her affections, the young Count Bertram (Alex Waldmann) is off to the French court.

Helena follows swiftly after, winning favour with the ailing King of France (Greg Hicks) by using her father’s remedies to cure his ills - and persuading him to offer Bertram’s hand in marriage as a reward.

But the spoilt and snobby Bertram immediately escapes to fight in foreign wars rather than be tied to a devoted wife.

The rest of the play is centred on Bertram’s development as a man during his time at war, and Helena’s courage and craftiness at winning the heart of her unwilling husband.

Hicks, fresh from playing the usurping King of Denmark, excels again in another royal role.

His acting acumen expertly captures the maladious monarch and his penchant for capoeira comes in handy as he dives about the stage doing handstands and high kicks to demonstrate the king’s curing at the hands of Helena.

Waldmann, Horton and Hicks’ shining performances are complemented well by that of Jonathan Slinger, he who was maligned by the critics of the national press for what I found a laudable portrayal of Hamlet at the opening of the RSC’s North East season.

There was nothing to be said against him here, however, with his deft and amusing portrayal of the caddish Parolles, played, as Michael Billington of The Guardian deftly puts it, “brilliantly as a closeted gay man hiding behind a fake Sandhurst accent.”

Hard rock riffs, stylised sequences and an atmospheric set combine with the cast’s gripping performances and director Nancy Meckler’s treatment of the text to make this a real jewel in the crown of the season.

•All’s Well That Ends Well runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday November 9.