Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Actors: Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Strouthos, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Eloise Winestock, Francesca Savige, George Banders, James Lugton, Megan Drury, Michael Pigott, Robert Alexander, Robin Goldsworthy, Sam Haft, Sandra Eldridge, Teresa Jakovich
Image by Seiya Taguchi
Sport For Jove’s production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is sleek and action-packed. Damien Ryan’s direction makes every effort to reach out to his audience to keep us mesmerised and entertained. Like a Hollywood film, everything is made to be seductive, but Ryan has the fortunate knack of giving things a sense of sophistication, including full frontal nudity and a completely insane love story.
One of the Bard’s “problem plays”, it is both a tragedy and a comedy. Ryan takes advantage of its “dramedy” quality and forms a creation full of texture and surprise, maneuvering around the text with a freedom that flaunts his artistic genius and courage. His interpretation is utterly contemporary, frequently fantastical and flamboyant, but never inappropriately so. Shakespeare’s outlandish writing meets its match in Ryan’s wildness. Acutely aware of the pleasure derived from visceral responses in the theatre, Ryan magnifies elements of eroticism, humour, tension and shock that are found in the original text, but also has the talent to keep the central story engaging and plot lines coherent. In other words, his direction leaves nothing more to want.
Shakespeare’s male characters are generally more interesting, and that is certainly the case here. The men in the cast have much more room to play, and their work dominates this stage. Edmund Lembke-Hogan is perfectly cast as Bertram. He has the good looks that make the ludicrous love story almost believable. His performance is spirited but precise, with commanding energy that fills the venue and a disciplined focus that keeps his character defined in spite of the often chaotic settings. Conversely, George Banders shines with the looseness in his acting style. Banders is a thoroughly funny and charming man whose character Parolles is easily the most liked of the show. He reads the audience well, and times his delivery impeccably to get us laughing at every opportunity. The production’s comedy makes its three hours feel a mere breath, and Banders is responsible for the best of it. The King of France is played by Robert Alexander who exemplifies charisma and experience. The meticulous detail in his portrayal turns a smaller role into a spellbinding one. His chemistry with co-actors is excellent but the gravity he brings on stage prevents him from ever being outshone.
Set, lighting and sound design are incredibly impressive. Ambitious in scale and scope, the creatives have outdone themselves with a show that is glorious in its look and feel. Its physical environment seems to be perpetually changing, and except for some mechanical noise issues, stage management is executed quite flawlessly. The versatility of Antoinette Barboutis’ set is a real marvel, but costume design is the one blemish in this grand visual experience.
The story is not an appealing one. A woman going to extremes for the love of a man who had shown her only disdain and humiliation is hardly a great idea for today’s stages, but Sport For Jove Theatre’s magical endeavour has transformed a 500 year-old script into a night of glorious theatre. Shakespeare was their starting point, but where they have ended up is a place beyond his wildest dreams.