Questing Vole Productions has packed sword-fighting, slapstick and soliloquies into a highly-enjoyable hour with All’s Well That Ends As You Like It. This is a show that will delight lovers of physical comedy, Shakespeare aficionados, and anyone with experience of amateur dramatics. It’s about to travel to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it will be playing shoulder-to-shoulder with overly-earnest student theatre and avant-garde interpretations of classics. In this environment, it cannot fail to hit the mark.
In the style of Noises Off, this is a show about a doomed amateur production — in this case an invented Shakespeare play, with the real cast playing the actors, director, and tech crew. The audience learns just enough about the play to find lots of common Shakespeare tropes (infidelity, ghosts, nunneries, duels) and the language is convincingly written in iambic pentameter. But as things start to go increasingly badly, the team are forced to ‘improvise’, while on-stage director Chris attempts to wrangle the performance towards an elusive happy ending — despite illness, accident, and eventually death.
Ben Kybett is impressive as the first casualty of the night, spending much of his stage-time playing a corpse and being manhandled into various hilarious positions by the rest of the cast. Efi Gauthier also excels as his on-stage wife, often the voice of pragmatism as the play descends further and further into chaos, but also displaying a healthy dose of diva when it comes to cutting her own lines. Jack Blackburn, playing the director Chris, manages to portray a very convincing decline from maniacal optimism as prophet and keeper of the holy text to eventual despair as the cast are forced to go increasingly off-script.
The set was sparse and laid out as a thrust stage, which lent itself well to the ‘meta’ aspects of the play as well as being appropriate for Shakespeare. It enabled the cast to blur the lines between on-stage and off (including dragging the unwilling tech crew onstage to sub in) and allowed plenty of references to the audience without directly addressing them. And for a very funny, silly show, there are also moments of real pathos and emotion, particularly in the closing scenes when Emma Slattery, playing the ghost of Ambrosio’s father, delivers her final judgement.
The entire production is already very slick, without any of the first-night slip-ups or obvious mistakes that can mar previews. With only seven cast members any duff performances would be distracting, but every single actor pulled their weight and then some, resulting in a really coherent group that was always fun to watch. Imagine The Play That Goes Wrong meets the bard, and prepare to laugh and wince in equal measure.
‘All’s Well That Ends As You Like It: A Lamentable Comedie and Hysterickal Tragedie, by William Shakefpeare’ is playing at theSpace on Niddry St (Venue 9), Edinburgh, Sunday 20th–Saturday 26th August.