We use cookies on this website to improve how it works and how it’s used. For more information on our cookie policy please read our Privacy Policy

Accept & Continue

Helena, a commoner and the orphan daughter of a poor physician, is the ward of the Countess of Rossillion. When she cures the ailing King of France by using her late father’s arts, her reward is the opportunity to marry the Countess’s son, Bertram, with whom she is madly in love. 

Bertram, for his part, is less keen. In fact, he’s so horrified at the prospect of spending his life with the low-born Helena that following their wedding ceremony, he decides fighting in the war in Italy is a better idea. He also makes it clear that he will only return home and become a proper spouse when his wife becomes pregnant with his child and gets his family ring from his finger - neither of which, he declares, is ever going to happen... 

Evidently a woman who loves a challenge, Helena determines that her desire for a happy marriage will not be thwarted by her husband’s stipulations...

All’s Well That Ends Well is considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, but you will have no problem whatsoever taking this new RSC version to your heart.  

And it’s clear, too, that the show’s director, Blanche McIntyre, places greater store by the play’s potential than its problematic nature. “All’s Well is Shakespeare’s most modern comedy,” she says. “Its story of sexual politics, class prejudice and generation gaps would always have felt contemporary. And the fantasy relationships and fake identities in the play make it a perfect match for our anxious, idealistic, lonely, social-media-addicted age.”

This sparkling new interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s least-performed comedies is fresh, vibrant, dynamic, inventive and positively exploding with energy. Boasting a fast-paced, attention-holding style, it brazenly meets head-on the potentially perplexing storyline that sees Helena vigorously pursuing a man who has no interest in being with her. 

The sometimes-tricky narrative - featuring, as it does, hot-potato subjects such as toxic masculinity, gender role reversal, the issue of consent, and the manipulation of the line between reality and fantasy (in modern times nowhere more clearly evident than in our online world) - is deftly handled. The balance between, on one hand, presenting a show exuding contemporary relevance, and on the other, spinning a good old-fashioned yarn, is beautifully achieved and admirably maintained. 

The performances of the principles cut the mustard, too. 

Rosie Sheehy’s Helena is a seriously self-possessed, doggedly determined and impressively defiant young female. Not only does her laser-like focus on winning Bertram boldly scream ‘empowered woman’, it also plays its part in establishing her husband’s less than impressive character. 

Thoughtfully fleshed out by Benjamin Westerby, Bertram is the kind of swaggering, egotistical and entitled young male for whom 21st-century audiences have an ever-diminishing tolerance. And in the era of #metoo, there’s surely no more effective way to celebrate strong women than by making it clear just how disappointing, overrated, untrustworthy and downright conniving a man can be! 

There’s powerful support from a host of other hugely talented cast members. Claire Benedict strikes all the right notes as the Countess, Jamie Wilkes is a study in clever comedy as the braggart Parolles, and Bruce Alexander routinely captivates as the King of France. 

The play bounds along at an impressive pace, gleefully making merry with Shakespeare’s 17th-century humour to present the audience with a show that must surely be as topical today as at any time in the last 400 years. 

Indeed, it feels entirely fair and accurate to say that all really is well, and ends well, with this latest production of All’s Well That Ends Well.

Four stars

Reviewed by Alex Dyle at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, where All's Well That Ends Well continues to show until Saturday 8 October.