Ever since Staged proved that high-quality drama could exist when consisting entirely over Zoom calls, theatre teams and creatives have had no excuse for not creating sublime online performances during the Coronavirus pandemic. Well… Apart from financial and mental stresses, the difficulty of good WiFi, and the fear of the descent into the Maelström which the world is current enjoying!
It turns out that Zoom does not only hold no limitations towards contemporary theatre, but classical theatre too. As a result, the company The Show Must Go Online have been creating free Shakespearean productions that are not only socially-distanced, but pretty damn good. Each week, a different production is ‘staged’ and the most recent show that I had the pleasure of seeing was All’s Well That Ends Well; one of Shakespeare’s comedic problem plays.
If you’re not familiar with this specific Bardian tale, All’s Well That Ends Well follows Helena (played here by Sara Hymes), who falls in love with Bertram, a man of nobler rank (James Dawoud). In an attempt to get him to marry her, Helena tries to heal the King of France’s ails. When she succeeds, the King orders Bertram to marry her, but he refuses to accept the proposal and runs off to war. In amongst the chaos, there are foolish jesters, manipulators with ulterior motives, and a number of arising circumstances that are definitely borderline problematic.
In short, it’s a classic William.
The use of Zoom is the main point of focus here, and it must be said that it’s used very well. This isn’t just characters sitting at desks and delivering their soliloquies to the camera as if they were in an office meeting, the characters move around, the camera angles change, objects are seemingly swapped between screens as if passing from character to character. I’m now convinced that if Shakespeare could have ended his monologues with a disconnect call sound, he would have done.
There’s also a clear sense of professionalism here; the actors have clearly learnt their scripts and there’s a distinct presence of costume and makeup (you’ll see what I mean when Parolles turns up).
The production features a pre-show and interval talk by Dathan B. Williams, a New York-based director and dramaturg. With an enjoyable flair, he explains the origins and ideas of the play, as well as exploring the different versions of interpretations and readings which the play has enjoyed since its initial performance. We also get some nice talks on the censorship Shakespeare plays underwent during Victorian times, as well as an explanation on the origin of the term ‘problem plays’. On the whole, it’s a very informed and educational production.
The cast is solid throughout, with clear talent from director Robert Myles. The performances feel as grand and large as they would on an actual stage; there’s no awkwardness or hesitation regarding speaking merely to a camera, nor just standing still silently for that matter. The joining of different screens is done with very good timing, and the scene transitions enjoy very dramatic music. On the whole, this production of All’s Well that End’s Well is entirely unlimited by the constraints of online theatre-making, and delivers an enjoyable production. If you’ve enjoyed the professionally recorded productions of Shakespeare uploaded during the lockdown, maybe give All’s Well That Ends Well a try. It’ll certainly be worth your while.
Words by Mischa Alexander.
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