Play on the cusp of tragedy and comedy

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, in partnership with Arts Alliance Media, is putting three of its 2011 productions on the big screen, and the first of these is screening this weekend at Nelson's State Cinema.

All's Well That Ends Well centres on two romantic figures: a young nobleman of Roussillon, Bertram (Sam Crane), and a "gentlewoman", Helena (Ellie Piercy), who serves his mother, the Countess (Janie Dee). Helena wants to marry Bertram, and has his mother's approval; however, he is not interested in her, as he considers only "a poor physician's daughter".

Bertram goes off to visit the ailing king of France. Helena follows, and with her medicine she cures the king. As a reward, the king offers her the husband of her choice. She chooses Bertram, and he reluctantly marries her.

Bertram says that the only way he will accept the marriage is if Helena gets his family ring from his finger and becomes pregnant with his child. He then travels to Florence without her.

A clever manipulation of events, together with a certain amount of deception, results in Helena getting her man, and so the title comes to pass, with all ending well.

All's Well That Ends Well was written by Shakespeare towards the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, at a time when there was a huge demand for new entertainment. It would have been produced soon afterwards; however, it is seldom performed today.

One of the difficulties for any director or actor is the interpretation of the character and motivation of Bertram, whose acceptance of Helena in the final scene could be seen as merely a gesture to gain the visiting French king's favour.

Some critics have dubbed the play one of the Bard's problem plays, as it cannot be classified neatly as either tragedy or comedy. John Dove's production attempts to balance the comic elements with the mature sadness that pervades the writing. Critics have praised it for its strong cast, sumptuous costumes and outstanding original music.

  • All's Well That Ends Well, directed by John Dove, Shakespeare Globe/Arts Alliance Media, 2011, 157 minutes inc. intermission, State Cinema, Sun 3pm, Mon 5.45pm, Weds 11am. Adults $25, seniors/children $20.