Shakespeare made use of some pretty unlikely plots for some of his non-historical plays. This one, borrowed from the Decameron, takes the biscuit. No matter. What does matter is the language, and here it is absolutely mastered and meaningfully conveyed by a superb cast of six. For sure, the dimensions of this studio theatre do not give room for a lot of spear-carriers, and there is some doubling-up. But that is carried off with aplomb. Miranda Foster plays the Countess of Roussillon, the Queen of France (not the King, as in the original – whether in the interests of space or of diversity), and a widow who runs an inn in Florence. But with rapid costume-changes, and changes of accent, you wouldn’t know it was the same actress.
Two of the cast also double up as pianists, with Stefan Bednarczyk demonstrating why he is in demand as a solo cabaret performer. Indeed, music plays an important part in this production, the pianos on stage melding with some classic rock records. One was not expecting to hear the best of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, but the combination works very well, and by no means jars with the action.
A word must also be said about the set and costumes, designed by Neil Irish. Ingenious use has been made of the space available. How to fit in two pianos, and how to create an all-purpose backdrop, must have seemed thorny problems, but they have received a very satisfactory solution. The costumes are intriguing. This is not exactly Shakespeare in modern dress, but the time is certainly not the 16th or 17th century either. There is a gratifying vagueness. It is not the 21st century, but it is not terribly far away from our own time.
Very much of our own time was the disapproval one detected from the distaff side of the audience for the ‘romantic lead’, Bertram, the totally unworthy recipient of the heroine, Helena’s, devotion. She gets him in the end, but was he worth it? As for his roguish and pusillanimous companion, Parolles – well, I found it hard not to like him. He s such a cad, and played with such enthusiasm by Robert Mountford.
All is indeed well with this production of Shakespeare!
- By Wilian Shakespeare
- Directed by Tom Littler
- A co-production with Guildford Shakespeare Company
- Set and costume design by Neil Irish with Anett Black
- Cst includes: Gavin Fowler, Hannah Morrish, Miranda Foster, Robert Mountford
- Jermyn Street Theatre
- Until: Saturday 30th November 2019
- Time: 19:30 (running time : 2 hours, plus 15-minute interval)