Bard on the Beach’s All’s Well That Ends Well takes the audience back to post Second World War India and the lead up to Indian independance. (Edmund Stapleton & Sarena Parmar; photo: Tim Matheson)
All’s Well That Ends Well, a ‘problem play’, as it is often described, does not fit easily into any classification.
Bard on the Beach‘s 2019 production is set in 1946/47 India and leading up to independence from English rule, which were indeed problematic times for the country. There are moments of comedy, but also tragedy and civil unrest.
Issues of colonization, privilege, identity, culture, race and gender are evident in the production, and sometimes uncomfortable to watch.
The production starts with a very British feel both in the sets and costumes, but moves into the colourful, warm and vibrant Indian culture as the play progresses.
The second half starts with beautiful colour, dance and music and thoroughly livens up the atmosphere.
Why Helena (Sarena Parmar) would love Bertram (Edmund Stapleton) when he is such a pompous British snob and doesn’t want to marry her because she is beneath his station is not quite believable. Then again, she wouldn’t be the first girl to fall for a dud if we’re being honest. That said, I was not fully convinced even at the end when Helena reveals herself to Bertram.
The use of a second language (Hindi and Urdu) without interpretations was tough to comprehend for those, like this reviewer, who didn’t understand. Props to BOB for acknowledging, however, the large southeast Asian population in Vancouver and giving those so often left out of Shakespearean productions a prominent space in the play. Some audience members were enjoying the dialogue, but it was lost on those who only understand English, and Shakespeare’s English at that!
Co-directors Rohit Chokhani and Johnna Wright have taken a bold approach in this adaptation of All’s Well that Ends Well.
The sword fight and dancing are highlights of the production and give life and energy to the stodgy British actors.
The subplot with Bertram’s companion Parolles (Jeff Gladstone) does not seem to fit with the rest of the play and reflects badly on Bertram’s lack of charisma. I just didn’t see where he fit in.
The play ends with Indian and Pakistani flags unfurled and the fighting continues with Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs brawling. Another mess left by the British Empire.
The play, for its complicated language and sometimes confusing subplots, is unique and still one worth seeing. I continue to commend BOB for always making the plays interesting and relevant. They never fail to take a chance, and should always be checked out.