By Danielle Farrow
The Year Out Drama Company’s Story Shakespeare appears annually at the Fringe and has built a reputation for clear story-telling of whatever Shakespeare play has been chosen, doing so with strong ensemble performance and fine sung accompaniment. This year the choice has alighted on a ‘problem play’: All’s Well That Ends Well, a piece that is not the most engaging of Shakespeare’s plays and has a very earnest heroine who is stubborn to the point of not caring for the feelings of the one she apparently loves, the hero who is really rather a shit.
These two protagonists do not fair any better in this production when it comes to anyone wanting to root for either of them, though there are moments of pathos for the heroine, but that doesn’t matter. The company has managed to do its trademark stripping down to basic plotline well, keeping the story very clear and then colouring it in with a few Shakespearean lines, modern narrative moments and a great deal of sly wit and jolly good humour.
Self-aware references are made in relation to important plot points and those which require more than the usual suspension of disbelief, with gags that include the transformation of the heroine from unrecognisable stranger to instant familiarity by the simple expedient of removing her cross. The French and Italians are frequently brought to amusing life through food jokes and the braggart Parolles provides much humour throughout, while an entertaining king is confident in his managing of proceedings.
There is no set, and none is needed. Lighting unobtrusive and costuming is clear, basic tops and trousers accentuated by colour-coded scarves and berets. Visuals are created through these clear accessories and through the placement of performers in the space, where the area is always kept alive and there are set pieces lifting characters and forming dance sequences. Physical humour is used as well, and many scenes are supported and enhanced by the fine singing of the company, with both popular songs and Shakespeare’s lines set to music, arranged by composer and musical director Joseph Atkins. The Soldier’s Song, created by Atkins and the company, is particularly rousing, amusing and well performed.
This is a fine showing for a company that provides drama training for those about to go on to further education, whether or not they have a view to entering the performance business, and speaks very well for the ethos of this company too – a place where focus is apparently placed on the growth of the individual within ensemble work.
This All’s Well That Ends Well is a Shakespeare story well told, highly amusing, with real belly laughs elicited from its audience, and an approach that brings one of Shakespeare’s least popular tales to rewarding life.