Review: 'All's Well That Ends Well' at The Shakespeare Company

Vicki Trask 

OnStage Calgary Critic

As part of the High Performance Rodeo hosted by One Yellow Rabbit, in collaboration with Vertigo Theatre, The Shakespeare Company has presented a phenomenal production of William Shakespeare’s “All Well That Ends Well”. Performed in The Studio Theatre this cast of ten, led by director Peter Hinton, tells the story of love, loss, and hijinks with grace and precision.

Helena, the scorned and twice over cunning woman, is played by Allison Lynch, a woman I am perpetually amazed by. This is not the first time I’ve seen her embody a feisty young woman on the stage and I know it won’t be the last. She was confident, well spoken, and brilliantly charming.

Brett Dahl also played an eloquent Bertram, the foolishly stubborn and equally cruel lover. Not only did he play a suave and conniving young man, he somehow managed to portray a cruel and vicious man with an alarming amount of charm. While there was never a moment in which you pitied or sympathized with this wretched boy, Brett gave him life and soul with his facial expressions.

Possibly my favourite character, the King of France, was played by the incredible John Ullyatt. I was so amazed at his embodiment of the ailing king. His movements were precisely placed, his tone weathered, and his choices clear. I loved the subtle shaking in his body as he shuffled around, commanding the room even though he could collapse at any moment. It was such a careful balance and I think he achieved above and beyond the noble king.

Parolles is such a deviously buffoonish character, with so much swagger it preceded him into the room.  Braden Griffiths played this character with a certain amount of bounce that turned all eyes in his direction when he entered the room. That same bouncing energy didn’t quite reach his desperate quiet moments; in a moment where he might be, for example, begging for his life, I saw an appropriate stillness but not the same energy. 

Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan is another actress I always love to watch on stage. Playing both the Countess and Widow, she maintained a maternal air – though of varying degrees of kindness – as the play progressed and her sorrow filled the room. Her biting tongue and mostly-quiet countenance gave her a continuous air of grace – even when a playing a women of ill-repute.

I must confess, their version of the play doesn’t lend itself to much physical fighting – something I always look forward to from The Shakespeare Company – but what there was seemed well rehearsed and assembled by fight director Karl Sine. The main fighters, Elder Dumaine played by Caleb Gordon, and Younger Dumaine played by Tenaj Williams worked well opposite each other. The rest of the cast included: Joel Cochrane as Lavatch, Myron Dearden as Lafew and, Sarah Wheeldon as Diana; all well-spoken and distinct characters.

That is something I will say of all the actors on that stage: they understood and presented the text extremely well. Even as someone who is not the most proficient at Shakespearean text, I understood not only the plot, but nuanced jokes, puns, and heart-breaking moments. Bravo to the entire cast.

Accompanying the fluent text and brilliant performances was a strangely calming and folk-like music direction from Sarah Wheeldon. Throughout scenes and transitions, songs, bells, and drums would play to break the silence. Much like the set design by Deitra Kalyn, I didn’t fully realize their significance until after I had left the theatre. The importance of their movement wasn’t clear on initial observation. Not good or bad, just unclear. The same I will say of the lighting design by Anton de Groot. I don’t think the concept was fully utilized by the actors but at the same time, the design didn’t lend itself to the story the actors were telling. I understood the concept and I understood the blocking but they didn’t mesh well. 

For me, this was one of the best performances I’ve seen all season. The text was clear, the actors were invested, and the technical aspect was – mostly – well delivered. That’s all I can ask for from my Shakespeare: clear and concise storytelling. I was absolutely impressed by this production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” and I encourage you to see it while it’s still playing at Vertigo Theatre.