The first thing we have to do is explain to our family and friends exactly what we're seeing.
It's a screening of a play.'
A movie about a play, like a behind the scenes?' No, the movie is the play.' And they play it on the screen?' Yeah, it's a play they've filmed to show on the big screen.' So it's a movie of a play.' Yes.'
The film screening results from a wish to share Shakespeare's Globe Theatre with the world. It's one of those idea's that makes you wonder why the hell it wasn't dreamed up earlier because the feeling of local reception in what might be the world's most iconic stage is a really edifying cinematic experience. Brought to the screen by Art's Alliance Media the double medium is an unlikely success.
All's well That Ends Well is a Shakespeare play, somewhat light in content compared with his heavier, better known tragedies; And like almost every Shakespeare play, one that defies classification as either tragedy or comedy exclusively.
True to tradition, the actors begin by casually pacing the stage and bending down for little chats with the standing patrons along the front of the theatrical mosh pit. Once we're comfortable with their smiles the folky music that gels every scene ushers the play into its first sequence.
As a whole the play is performed beautifully in a perfect setting. The modern challenge of Shakespeare is to take a machete to the dialogue and effectively translate it, or, with really great acting, to intone and gesticulate the audience through metaphor, joke and directive.
The actors really do give no excuse for misunderstanding and after 15 minutes of listening I found myself thinking lyrically about the virtues of the play. Particularly funny are Lavach, a clown, played by Colin Hurley, whose honesty, sharp wit and equally slack jaw cut perfectly against the regal speech of the nobility; The second being Parolles, the ill-advising rascal played by James Garnon who, though we never sympathise with, is always a great mirror for the other characters to develop against and probably the most legible orator of the whole cast.
Initially I was quite surprised at the modern, almost feminist expressions of Helena (played by Ellie Piercy) about virginity in the second scene. Through the motions of the play though, I was quickly reminded of the age of the script. I was left wondering why we seemed to be asked to sympathise with Bertram (Sam Crane), the young count who's committed to marry Helena, who runs off to war to avoid it, tries to seduce another young virgin and ends up tricked into sleeping with Helena, accidentally consummating their marriage in the process and 'ending all well'. This fills the strange closing fanfare, a procession I couldn't quite pin down as tongue in cheek or not.
Despite this moral awkwardness the whole filming really is pulled off really well. The use of changing camera angles is handled very well to retain something of the stationary viewing experience we associate with the theatre while moving about intuitively to give us the best views when gesticulation is crucial. The Sound quality is perfect as well, again with a degree of engineering to enhance viewing but not too much to detract from the nature of live performance.It's intriguingly odd to see the stands and floor packed with an indistinguishable bourgeois of pale blue, white and checkered shirts; heads under sunglasses and crowd control in polo shirts.
But rather than detracting from the atmosphere the anachronism of crowd and setting create an intriguing experience of past and present, something it's surprising hard to achieve nowadays. For thespians and philistines alike, an enjoyable experience.
Ben Barnes attended a media screening of All's Well That Ends Well as a guest of Nixco and WeekendNotes.