Or to hear Othello put it so succinctly in his own words... "'twas strange, 'twas passing strange,"
These guys always top themselves in a most glorious way...always going one better.
Or as All's Well that Ends Well tells it... "makes fair gifts fairer."
And what a kick-ass start to this rarely performed play (this was the first time I ever had a chance to see it) with the amazing base progression of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain swelling, ever swelling until it bursts and tears into our senses.
"And if you don't love me now
You will never love me again!"
And here at the beginning of the play we have a prefiguring of its end! Right from the get-go we are enthralled and dragged screaming into the core of the play. And what a thing this play is in the hands of adaptor and director.
9 character into 6 actors? One would think this wouldn't compute but they all excel in being whoever they are. A superb casting and a wonderful example of ensemble acting.
Guildford Shakes do the words proud. They really get behind the words and then inhabit them so that they possess the personality...inhabiting the character from the core. They are not just actors spouting lines or going through their Shakespearean motions but become so believable and real in every word that comes out of their mouths. And so the words are made flesh and the character come alive for us.
There are no words that can be found to even suggest how brilliant a performance ROBERT MOUNTFORD wrings from the vainglorious Parolles. He is a lightning bolt poured into a slim grey suit that can barely contain his energy of arms and legs and posturing and posing. He is a great delight in all he does whether it be in words or even the spaces between the words.
I happened to bump into him a few days after and he was such a charming man and praised his wonderful director. And indeed Tom Littler has pulled out all the innovative stops in this production.
HANNAH MORRISH's Helena is outstanding and gives such an intense performance with every emotion seen in every motion and word. Her pain and her devotion is written into everything she does. She can do no wrong. She is simply stunning.
STEFAN BEDNARCZYK's Lafew displays the perfect composure and calmness. He exudes perfection in every nuance and gesture...down to his fingertips. And indeed it is a beautiful moment when he transposes the famous songs to fragile acoustic piano.
The use of music was a splendid touch, almost as if it were another character commenting on what was happening, the inner emotions of the characters coming out in a judicious use of Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchel, Judy Collins and Patti Smith. One minute they would be blaring out from a '70's Dancette and then as if one could write an emotion on the air and make it visible...on the two acoustic pianos played so carefully and compassionately by Stefan Bednarczyk and CERI-LYN CISSONE.
MIRANDA FOSTER doubles up as – or rather triples up – as three separate characters and is simply out of this world in all three...whether she be the Countess of Rousillon, the Queen (love the shift of gender here) or Diana's mother. She is a different entity whoever she is playing and is totally convincing. She is Ariel 's words to the very syllable and we flame in amazement as she sometimes divides and "burns in many."
A bravura performance.
Cer iLyn Cissone also assumes various role to great success being both Diana and soldier as well as being the other beautiful pianist.
GAVIN FOWLER has the hardest part to fulfil as Bertram who rejects our heroine not once but twice and the second time coerced by the threat of the Queen's power. He manfully plays the part with all his dishonourable "honour" and shameful selfish behaviour.
And therein lies the problem...both for hero and heroine. This comedy, unlike other shiny comedies, has of course attained the "problem play" tag. Aye, there's the rub!
Yes we have all the usual fairy tale-ish elements not to mention ye olde bed trick and exchange of rings. Then there is the rush to tidy it all up for a happy ending. But the problem play's darkness sets it on a collusion course with the fairy tale. The fairy tale motif tangling with a rather modern philosophical debate of what "honour" is.
Both principals have a lot of growing up to do and during the play they are a work in progress...they have to grow into their real selves. This is often a painful experience and the truths about oneself may not be the easiest to bear or what they would like.
Helena in all her puppy love for Bertram without a solid foundation or of any real people coming together. She longs for him like the love expressed in the perfect songs we hear....longing without experience, demanding his love like a prize without ever thinking does he want her or not. He certainly doesn't and is only forced into this "fixed" marriage. One can't make one love one...can one?
They are both made free to do what they want to do by the death of their fathers. What Helena wants is not what Bertram wants. He wants to be free and able to find his own love and honour on the battlefield.
This word "Honour" that is the crux....meaning honesty back in the day and we have a very honest woman and a very dishonourable man. If this was the other way and the woman was made to marry the man...we would be up in arms! Bertram isn't worth it but trying telling Helena that.
She will have to grow up and realise that she both has him and has him not. And she is caught in her own Catch 22...
Th' ambition in my love thus plagues itself;
Ahhh the success of failure...the failure of success.
"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie..." she tells us and she may have to grow up and face the facts without the help of fairy tale endings or by the Queen's say so.
We get a glimpse of this in the ending as, just as at the beginning we find her sadly in her room like some teenager with the songs teaching her their wise wisdom. The web of our life is a mingled yarn, both good and ill together. Real life.
All's well that ends well you say. Not quite. As the Queen puts it "...all yet seems well" which is not the same thing!
"And if it end so meet..." oh such an ominous IF....such a conditional qualifier where there should be a glowing certainty.
If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly
I'll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.
Problem play? No problem! I like problem plays, me...they make you think and argue with yourself about the ifs and buts...the rights and wrongs.
Now I have often said of a Guildford Shakes production that this is their best so that all I can say is that this is the "bestest of the best!"
A superb production from an truly outstanding cast. If I had the money I would go to see it night after night in order to be in the presence of such greatness.
Or as Cromwell would have said of it...
"IN THE NAME OF GOD....GO!"