The Play’s the Thing – Unless it’s Naught

Went to see the encore transmission of the Nation Theater‘s live broadcast of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well at the Coolidge Corner, and well, it didn’t (end well, geddit?).

I was so put off by, everything, that I left at intermission.

I have never seen/been to a performance where the set was so damnably distracting. Dark, brooding, consisting of  pieces of wood nailed together higgledy-piggledy and somewhat remotely shaped like a, um, turret or two. The angularity of it created many dark spaces that actors kept standing in; I kept thinking, Don’t they know their blocking?

I get that the stage at the National Theater in London is gi-normous, but this set just made it huger, and for no other reason than they wanted to. Big set, little people, yeah yeah. A couple of doors, some of which were mirrored, it all looked like crap.

The sets were so dark and ominous that barely a laugh was heard from the (live and in person) audience during the comedic moments, and even less from us (I think 90% of my audience’s mirth-iness came from those two in the back, a no doubt long-married pair who conducted their courtship by reading Will’s plays to each other). We knew it was funny, but, we didn’t feel we were allowed to laugh.

Part “Alice in Wonderland,” part “Henry V,” part “What the Hell?”

And the costuming, all the main characters wore costumes from different eras. Girl looked exactly like Alice in Wonderland, boy wore a current(ish) suit, mother wore an empire gown from Jane Austin, King wore robes from the Middle Ages. Weren’t there enough outfits in the costume department for this show?

And maybe these are some of the finest Shakespearists working in Britain today, but it seemed like, for the most part, they didn’t know how to speak Shakespeare. Their cadences were off, they emphasized small words that distrupted the flow of the language, which made me have to figure out what they were saying, instead of listening to what they were saying and understanding it. It reminded me of this little joke my father used to make: “What’s that up on the road…a head?”

I mean, honestly, Shakespeare’s not that hard to understand if done right; I point you to Kenneth Branagh’s Iago in the 1995 film version of Othello; man, you totally heard the meanness, the jealousy, the, everything, in his tirade about “the beast with two backs.”

This production, though, didn’t have that, didn’t have the gasp-ness that it could have, the places in the play where the strength and brilliance of Shakespeare’s writing strikes you like lightning and makes you think, “My gawd, this so totally is still amazing.”

The whole thing struck me as disjointed – the set didn’t match the costumes, the costumes didn’t match each other, and the idea of different locales being “achieved” on the wide-open stage by turning lights on and off in various locations just…didn’t…work.

The cohesion of the actors didn’t exist. Everyone was saying their lines, not interacting with the other characters.

I did not enjoy this. In fact, it irritated me. It seemed smarmy, like the director was saying, “THIS is my big deep idea of Shakespeare and if you don’t get it sod off.”

So I did.

Just shoot me through the heart with that arrow, I couldn't stand this production
Well, it Ended, so all is Well now…


Just so you know I’m not a complete Philistine/plonker, I also reviewed NT Live’s Phedre, which you can read here.

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