The second play in the inaugural initiative by London's National Theatre to broadcast its shows by satellite to movie theaters worldwide has made its way to Dallas' Angelika Film Center, in high definition. Its execution as a "filmed" play comes off beautifully, with some mixed results.
Director Marianne Elliott’s vision of All's Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare's "problem plays" and one performed rarely, is nothing short of transcendent. Elliott chose this play about gender conflict, unrequited love and immaturity because of its relative obscurity and the opportunity to work free of preconceived notions of interpretation or execution. This freedom positively works for her, as she is allowed to spread her creative wings and let this play soar.
The story, which Shakespeare borrows from Boccaccio's Decameron, revolves around the sumptuously varied, and sometimes humorous, machinations of a lady, Helena, to trick a young playboy of a count into marrying her against his will. She does so by the dubious ploy of the "bed-trick," ring witcheries, faked deaths, miraculous cures, double crosses, disguises and other shenanigans. Elliott runs with the fairytale aspects of the plot and builds her vision around creating this other world of a skewed and extraordinary reality.
Michelle Terry, as Helena, has an amazingly powerful and dynamic voice, and she easily fills the rafters of London's 1200-seat Olivier Theatre. She is clearly a talented stage actress, and conveys absolute believability that she is a plain physician's daughter in love with a star, the count, perhaps too far out of her reach.
Bertram, the Count of Rossillion, whom Helena loves, is played with petulant bravado by George Rainsford. Bertram is the most repugnant of Shakespeare’s romantic heroes with his disdain of the lowly Helena, and cad-like wooing of another maid. Rainsford makes the most of an unlovable character, infusing him with the handsome complexity of a raffish puppy.
A real comedic treat for the audience lies in Conleth Hill’s portrayal of the swaggering, shagadelic letch, Parrolles. Hill is fantastically funny as the young Count's false chum. He peppers his performance with cocksure physical gyrations and impeccable timing. Oliver Ford Davies also brings the funny with his role as the aged and cantankerous King of France. Davies plays him as a crotchety and bellicose Gandalf on his worst day. All in all, it's a very well cast and outstandingly performed ensemble production.
Designer Rae Smith beautifully fulfills the vision of the play as a fairytale world. Gothic spires, elements of timeless castles, simple and lovely furniture pieces and the ingenious use of silhouettes as living drawings for scene transitions characterize Smith’s set. The richly inventive costumes dominated by toy soldier uniforms, velvet and taffeta, wizard staves, rhinestones and leather also subscribe to the created world of whimsy and fantasy. Adam Cork's music, full of chimes, animal sounds and blustery wind is charmingly otherworldly.
Attending this live broadcast feels neither like cinema nor theater, but mostly the best of both. Filmed theater can be deathly boring, and it is a testament to the director, cast and all involved that the magic of this production was even a little bit conveyed across the Atlantic. In fact, it is so lovely and engrossing, one wishes he were in the Old Vic along with a living, breathing audience to take in the whole grand spectacle. That being said, the unique and breathtaking interpretation of this play is well worth seeing no matter what the venue.
Mr. Lusk's day job is teaching English and Humanities at St. Alcuin in Dallas. His full-time gig is being a Shakespeare nerd. He also has an unhealthy love for baseball, pancakes and motorcycles.
Note: There is only one more local screening, at 2 p.m. today (Monday October 12) at the Angelika Film Center in Plano. Tickets are $20 each. You can order them online here.