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Shakespeare's Globe on Screen: All's Well That Ends Well - Review

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by Louis Fameli (subscribe)
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Be transported to Shakespeare's Globe in London
Starting in September, Shakespeare's Globe, in partnership with Arts Alliance Media, will release three theatrical productions to Australian cinema during 2012. The three performances to be screened are All's Well That Ends Well (showing September 26), Much Ado About Nothing (showing 10 October) and finally, the only non-Shakespeare written work in the trio, Doctor Faustus (showing 24 October).

A scene from All's Well That Ends Well; supplied by Shakespeare's Globe
A scene from All's Well That Ends Well; supplied by Shakespeare's Globe

This reviewer was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to view the first of these performances, All's Well That Ends Well.* For those who managed to avoid Shakespeare in high school, or have since forgotten what they learnt about the playwright, this play is often considered one of Shakespeare's comedies, although it features elements of tragedy throughout.

The play itself tells the story of Helena, an orphaned girl who has been taken in by the Countess of Rousillon. Since growing up alongside the Countess' son, Bertram, Helena has fallen in love with him and seeks to win his affections. However, with the King of France severely ill, Helena uses her father's remedies to heal the King and in doing so wins the right to marry any man she so chooses. Naturally, she chooses Bertam and it is here where the drama ensues.

A scene from All's Well That Ends Well; supplied by Shakespeare's Globe
A scene from All's Well That Ends Well; supplied by Shakespeare's Globe

Bertram is unwilling to take Helena as his wife, and refusing to fulfil his husbandly duties, leaves France and Helena behind. This leaves Helena and the Countess distraught, with the former deciding to falsify her death and hatch a plan to win her husband back.

The play is delivered in the traditional English of Shakespearian times, which for anyone unfamiliar to such language, may prove to be a small hurdle to understanding the story. However, if old English is not your forte, do not be deterred from viewing any of the performances on screen, as judging by All's Well, they will be fantastic and your ears will acclimatise to the language.

The stage and theatre is designed as the Globe would have been all those years ago, and makes for an ideal performance setting for the production. Additionally, as viewers see a minimalist stage set-up, they gain an insight into how much of the atmosphere is established by the actors and their performances. However, that is not to say that costumes, lighting and all the off-stage staff have not done excellent work to ensure top quality costumes and props.

Being a filmed version of a live performance, some of the atmosphere is lost in translation. However, thankfully the cinematography manages to capture the play from another perspective, allowing viewers the chance to connect with the performance in a way they could not do when viewing the play live. Furthermore, each of the actors is impressive in their roles, making use of the stage, interacting with the live audience and delivering honest performances.

Overall, the series of films showing live versions of the theatre will not be suited to everyone. That is undeniable. However for those who are willing to take the plunge into watching theatre on screen, you will not be disappointed. With sublime acting, minimalist sets that draw attention to the performances and classic stories, the series of films looks set to be a fantastic way of experiencing Shakespeare's Globe in London without the extended trip.

*Louis attended the preview screening courtesy of Nixco & WeekendNotes.
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Why? Be transported to Shakespeare's Globe in London without the long haul flight
Where: Select Adelaide Cinemas
Cost: See cinemas for details
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