By William Shakespeare, adapted by Dominic Power
Directed by Andrew Hilton
Company: STF and TFT
Venue: Tobacco Factory
Date: Wednesday 13th April 2016
Tonight we sat directly opposite our previous seats, which not only gave us a great view of tonight’s performance, but also a completely different perspective. The cast had made good use of the extra practice, and all the performances had developed nicely; although there were still a few fluffs, nothing detracted from the marvellous energy and pace with which they drove this story along, and there were some lovely extra details here and there. Sadly, the house was not full, so clearly word has not yet got out about how wonderful this production is. I’m tempted to ask my maestro of the scheduling (aka Steve) to see if we can squeeze in another viewing during the tour, but one look at my diary – we have a LOT coming up – suggests that won’t be possible. Catch it if you can.
These notes will correct anything I got wrong last time, add in details I missed first time round, and celebrate the changes and improvements since their opening night. The dialogue was just as clear, and since I was now more familiar with this version of the play, I caught more of the details. The Countess gave Bertram the ring from her finger at the end of the ‘precepts’, just as she was saying “farewell”. When the Countess left, Bertram went over to Helena to say goodbye to her, and after bidding her to take care of his mother, he hugged her quite naturally in a brotherly kind of way, but I can see how that would have been difficult for the poor girl. It was also a marker, something to compare Bertram’s behaviour with when he takes his leave later on.
Helena didn’t sit down when referring to her time spent sketching Bertram’s face: she stayed on her feet all the way through her lines, and I felt that her emotional suffering actually came across better because of it. Her banter with Parolles was good, and I could see that he was paying attention to her comments about Bertram’s potential “thousand loves”, although he didn’t understand what she meant. When Lavatch arrived to deliver his message from Bertram, Parolles dismissed him with “get you gone, dancing master”, but Lavatch didn’t budge. (I paid particular attention to Lavatch’s role tonight, taking careful notes (as best I could) of his contributions.) He responded in kind, calling Parolles “Monsieur Swagger”, and he remained on stage until just before Parolles left.
In Paris, a maid brought the king on in his wheelchair while the washstand was set up by the right front pillar. The king looked more ill tonight, much less steady on his feet – he used the back of the wheelchair to support himself when he was standing – and he walked slowly and with a bit of a limp. Bertram was introduced by Lafew, and it’s possible the king’s praise of Bertram’s father had been trimmed a bit more – it didn’t seem to take long. The king held out his arm to request Bertram’s help to leave the stage, and then we were back in Rossillion for a more complicated version of the following scenes.
The Countess was lying back on one of the chairs with a straw hat over her face (as last time), apparently snoozing. Helena was singing off stage, a lovely song about a young woman who loved a man – you get the drift. She came on clutching a notebook, and sat in the other chair, not wishing to disturb the Countess. Lavatch appeared in the main entrance as she was finishing the song, and told her to “forsake these old ballads”. While he was telling Helena that these old-fashioned numbers weren’t suitable nowadays, the Countess suddenly spoke up from her chair and told him that they were just fine by her; Lavatch stood to one side, looking a tad offended at being contradicted, but otherwise keeping his own counsel.
The Countess sent Helena off to fetch her book from her bedroom (lines possibly stolen from Much Ado?) and this gave Lavatch the opportunity to ask the Countess for permission to go to Paris to support Bertram in his further learning. The Countess forbade this: she reckoned he had nothing more to teach Bertram, and that his music and dancing skills were needed at Rossillion. Lavatch detailed some of Bertram’s accomplishments – apparently he was fine at dancing and could play an instrument, but his singing was abysmal. To overcome the Countess’ refusal to let him go, he warned her that Bertram needed his help to avoid a danger, and this was where he delivered part of Reynaldo’s description of overhearing Helena’s confession of love for the Countess’ son. Given Helena’s intention of going to Paris to treat the king’s fistula – a word which Lavatch couldn’t bring himself to pronounce – he saw it as his duty to the family honour to keep Bertram free from Helena’s scheming nature. He did admit, when the Countess queried his account of Helena’s words, that he had dramatized his account ‘slightly’ to make his point, and the Countess made good use of his concerns about the king’s illness when she again refused to let him go to Paris – suppose he caught a fistula himself? (We laughed – Lavatch didn’t.) She was also less complimentary about his tale-telling than in the text, when she’s talking to Reynaldo, and quite right too. She sent Lavatch off, and had just a few seconds before Helena returned with her book to tell us of her thoughts.
When Helena came back on, she handed the book to the Countess and sat in a chair with her notebook. She leapt up quickly enough though when the Countess started calling herself Helena’s “mother”, and paced in an agitated manner as she tried to avoid the inevitable conclusion. Once she admitted her love, the Countess kept still and avoided Helena’s eyes while the young woman poured out her heart and pleaded for pity. The Countess maintained this demeanour until Helen asserted that she was confident of effecting a cure of the king – “Ay, madam, knowingly” – and then she broke into a wide smile and gave Helena her full backing and loving support.
At court the King, still in his wheelchair, was saying farewell to the Dumaine brothers. His advice regarding the temptations of the Italian ladies was received with more laughter tonight, and although the king was still frail, I noticed he was a bit perkier on his feet when the subject of attractive young women came up. The king went off with some of the lords, leaving Bertram, Parolles and the Dumaines to say their farewells, but Bertram just raised his hand in acknowledgement when one of the brothers said “farewell, my lord”, without adding anything else. This lent more weight to Parolles’ later comments that he hadn’t been very forthcoming to the brothers, and Bertram left the stage eagerly with his friend to “use a more spacious ceremony to the noble lords”. In the meantime, the brothers had found Parolles’ request that they speak to Captain Spurio on his behalf quite amusing – they evidently realised that Parolles was better at bluster than battle.
The king came back on with Lafew, and was soon introduced to Helena. Lafew left them together, and the king stood behind his wheelchair for most of the ensuing conversation. I think there was less of a pause before Helena asked “but if I help, what do you promise me?”, but otherwise the scene was as before, and just as good.
Back at Rossillion, Lavatch was the one singing this time, and given his previously stated preference for more formal songs, it was appropriate that this song sounded like a madrigal. He was also holding a folder with some papers; at first I thought it was sheet music, but then I spotted that he was looking at a drawing or sketch – perhaps one which Helena drew of Bertram? When the Countess came on, Lavatch told her of his dream, in which a mighty eagle was enticed to stoop down and check out a lowly fowl which appeared to be suffering. When it landed, the hen began stabbing at the eagle with its beak, wounding it. In case the Countess hadn’t taken his meaning, he explained that Bertram was the eagle and Helena the hen, and when he asked the Countess what he should do, hoping of course to be sent to Paris to be with his master, she advised “eat no cheese” before bedtime, which got a huge laugh. She did send him to court, however, to deliver a letter to Helena.
The red sofa came on for the next scene at court, and this time I was more aware of Parolles’ attempts to take over the conversation by constantly interrupting Lafew’s story, and the way he kept speaking over Lafew’s lines was very funny. Of course it meant we didn’t get the full story of the king’s miraculous recovery, but that was soon sorted by having the king and Helena dancing onto the stage to demonstrate the fact, and it certainly gave us the background to Lafew’s contempt for Parolles.
The king and Helena did a couple of turns round the stage before stopping their dance, and the king definitely ordered that his “wards” be brought into the court – my text has “lords”. While he and Helena waited on the sofa, he gave her his ring, and since I have no lines in my text, I’m not sure exactly what he said to her, but it was along the lines of my previous notes.
The choosing scene seemed clearer this time. Perhaps it was our familiarity, or perhaps from this angle I was more aware that Lafew was well behind the action and probably couldn’t hear what was going on; it’s possible he was further back than last time as well. They cut a lot of the lines, going from the king’s “not one of these but had a noble father” to Helena’s “Sir, will you hear my suit?”, and I think it was her words to the third lord which also disappeared. Bertram was unconcerned about the whole process, assuming that he wasn’t included in the ranks of the choosable, and this time I noticed that the third lord, seeing that the first two had been rejected, slightly preened himself, thinking “I’m the one!” He was crestfallen when she turned him down as well, and Bertram didn’t react much at all when she went over and told him that he was her choice as husband.
He did react strongly though when the king stood up and told him that he had to marry her. His expression was harder to see for this part of the scene from our current seats, and perhaps they’d decided not to make the piece as dark as it had become on the first night, but it was still a marked change, and Helena’s distress was just as clear as before. The king grabbed Bertram when he turned to leave, and made him stay, and then he grabbed Helena by the arm to force the two young people together. Bertram plastered a fake smile on his face when he submitted to the king’s will, but it fooled no one, and things did not look good for their future happiness at this point.
The banter between Lafew and Parolles was as good as before, with more laughter when Lafew came back on and Parolles failed to give him the beating he’d just promised him behind his back. After Lafew left, Bertram rushed on to tell Parolles he was leaving for the wars, and so they exited together.
Lavatch came on with Helena, who was holding the letter from the Countess. When Parolles arrived, he and Lavatch had another go at each other, and Lavatch even challenged Parolles to a duel, knowing that he was too much of a coward to accept. Parolles delivered Bertram’s instructions to Helena, she willingly accepted them, and all left.
Bertram was dressing when he spoke with Lafew and then Parolles, and the short scene with Helena was as before, including the kiss. Back in Rossillion, the Countess was ‘relaxing’ in her favourite chair again, and was awaken by the return of Helena and Lavatch. Helena gave the Countess Bertram’s letter, and although she was delighted to hear from her son, she was horrified when she actually read the letter to find out what he had done. Or not done, in this case. The Dumaines arrived – I’m not sure if Helena went off stage during the letter-reading – and the news got worse: Bertram was off to the wars. With Helena’s letter adding even more misery to the situation, it was no surprise that the Countess completely disowned her son, and from the expression on her face when she left with the Dumaines, her letter to Bertram was going to be a scorcher!
Lavatch offered to replace Bertram as Helena’s husband, and she spoke her response – “get you from me” – with real anger. After he left her alone, she told us of her thoughts and feelings about Bertram’s life being at risk because of her actions, and her decision to leave Rossillion that night.
It’s possible the next scene had changed since the first night, but I suspect I simply misremembered it. Instead of the Dumaine brothers talking to the Duke followed by Bertram’s arrival, it began with Bertram greeting the Duke but included a reference to a letter from the King of France demanding that Bertram be sent back, which neither man had any intention of obeying. Parolles did the usual ducking when the cannons fired and the sound effects suggested the shot was landing somewhere in the vicinity (i.e. within a couple of miles), and Bertram and he ran off after “hater of love”. Interval.
To the sound of shouting and drums, the widow Capilet and her daughter Diana came down the stairs to watch the soldiers come by with their prisoner. They added more lines than my text has, because they talked of the prisoner, naming him as the Duke? Count? Adleburg, and mentioning how he had threatened to rape the women of the town, and that Bertram had been the one to capture him. The soldiers led the man on in chains and took him off through the far exit, while the Dumaines, Bertram and Parolles waited in the middle of the stage; Helena and the other women were watching from the stairs. As the men waited, Parolles turned his back as he made his comment about the lost drum, and, catching sight of the ladies, waved at them. There was more shouting and this time I heard some shots, so the execution had obviously been carried out – the men relaxed and began chatting with each other as they left the way they had come. Parolles lingered behind to wave at the ladies again – laughter – and then blew a kiss to Diana before he followed the rest of the soldiers.
When the women had left the stage, the Dumaines and Bertram came back on, talking of Parolles. Bertram was still supportive of his friend, but, for whatever reason, he was willing to join them in their plan to show Parolles up – perhaps he thought his friend would surprise them both. Parolles was easily manipulated into declaring that he would rescue the lost drum, but at least he was smart enough to only promise that he would make the attempt – he couldn’t guarantee success. Bertram headed off with the elder Dumaine to visit Diana, while the younger brother went off to set the trap for Parolles.
Round the dining table, Helena explained her plan to the widow and Diana. When she offered a big bag of gold, the widow held up her hand to refuse it, though once she knew her daughter’s honour was not only going to be safe, but that there would be even more money available for her dowry, she found it easier to agree to the plan.
With the stage cleared, Pierre Dumaine and four others came on to prepare their ambush. They hid amongst the audience as well as behind the pillars, so they weren’t as obvious as I remember from last time, and we all enjoyed Parolles’ musings on his situation when he came on. I feel some sympathy for this braggart; he knows that his mouth gets him into trouble, and his honesty, to us at least, is rather endearing. We laughed a lot when he took out his sword and waggled it around, trying to find some relatively innocuous part of himself to stab or cut to back up his claim that he’d attempted to retrieve the drum. We laughed even more when he gave up on that and put his sword back in its scabbard, only to catch his hand and hurt himself unintentionally.
It was after this that the soldiers crept up on him, grabbed him and put on the blindfold, which was almost as uncooperative as the first time they tried it. With Paroles promising anything and everything if they spared his life, he was soon taken off to prison to await Bertram’s return.
That young man, meanwhile, was flirting outrageously with Diana. They mainly prowled round the front right pillar, and his eventual agreement to give his ring to her was greeted with plenty of laughter. Her subsequent comments on his wooing style were enjoyably to the point, and then there were the same comings and goings that indicated Bertram was in Diana’s room, but with his own wife instead of Diana. This time, I noticed the chiming of a bell which accompanied these actions.
Back in the camp with the Dumaine brothers, they were waiting for Bertram before beginning Parolles’ interrogation. Charles Dumaine was not happy to report that Bertram had seduced, as he thought, the chaste Diana, but it wasn’t long before Bertram himself arrived, and the fun could begin.
When Parolles was brought on, Bertram was relaxed and smiling to begin with, confident that his friend would handle the situation with courage. A number of lines had been cut, so they got to Parolles entrance almost immediately once Bertram arrived. The interpreter (Alan Coveney) did a great job of gabbling nonsense at every opportunity, and when he asked their prisoner “what strength they are of foot?”, Parolles was so scared that he stumbled his way through his calculations, clearly terrified at what his captors might do to him if he didn’t give them satisfaction.
Bertram had already begun to revise his opinion of Parolles after his first answers to the questions, but when his letter to Diana was read out, Bertram’s disappointment turned to anger, and he would have attacked Paroles but for the Dumaines holding him back; apart from that, there were no other attempts to hit Parolles, although Pierre Dumaine nearly drew his sword at one point.
The monk came on at the main entrance while Charles Dumaine was speaking to Parolles after the blindfold had been taken off. The monk asked Bertram to go with him, as he had some important information which he needed to give him in private. Bertram was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed; before he left, however, he took the letter to Diana and tore it up in front of Parolles, dropping the pieces as he turned and marched off. Their friendship was over. The other soldiers left too, but they did leave a drum on the stage to keep Parolles company – cheeky.
Once alone, Parolles made his decision to stop pretending to be someone he wasn’t, and to get by however he could. He left the stage, and Bertram and the monk came on. The monk delivered a letter to Bertram, and told him of his wife’s death (not in my text he doesn’t) using some of the lines spoken by the first lord Dumaine in Act 4 scene 2, reporting the news of Helena’s death to his brother. Bertram told the monk to leave him, which he did by the side exit, but he snuck back on again in the main entrance, holding his robe over his arm and listening to Bertram’s regrets for the loss of Helena. That done, the monk crept away, and Bertram also left to return to Rossillion.
For the next scene, Helena came on with Diana and her mother, and the ‘monk’ also came on carrying their luggage. My text has Helena mentioning that the king is bound for Marseilles, but I’m sure I heard her specify Rossillion tonight. A mistake? My mishearing? Either way, the ladies headed off to find the king.
At Rossillion, Lavatch came on carrying a shoe which he was polishing. His clothes were a bit rumpled and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top. He sat down on a low stool, and was there when the Countess and Lafew came on, discussing the latest news. When Lafew made his comment about Helena, that “we may pick a thousand salads ere we light on such another herb”, Lavatch spoke up, initially responding with the line in the text. However he soon went completely off-text, and showed that he was not only looking scruffy, but that his mind was severely disturbed by recent events. Having been unable to mention the word “fistula” earlier, he now went through the declension of the word, going into some detail on the physical aspects of the disease. The Countess found this offensive, and given our recent history, I think it’s safe to say that Lafew’s “no more of this” came directly from King Lear. Lafew gave us the information about the king approving his daughter’s marriage to Bertram, which the Countess echoed, and then came news of Bertram’s arrival, and that the king would be with them shortly.
Helena and her companions came on next, and met with the Astringer, who took her petition for the king. Parolles entered after that short scene, asking Lavatch to take a letter to Lafew. (This is another example of Shakespeare providing a lower-class version of a scene immediately after the original: Helena gets the Astringer to deliver a letter, Parolles can’t persuade Lavatch to do the same.) More fresh lines here, as Lavatch commented on the smell coming from Parolles, and Parolles responded by pointing out that he and Lavatch were as twins in that respect. Lavatch denied it at first, but then began checking himself out, sniffing at his sleeves and armpits – you know the sort of thing: I won’t go into graphic detail. Lavatch realised he was indeed much dirtier than he’d thought, and when Lafew came on, he went off to get himself some “clean linen”. Lafew gave Parolles some money at first, but when he realised who it was – Parolles took off his cap – he took the man on. Then the king arrived, and we were into the wonderful final scene.
The king moved one of the chairs to the middle to receive Bertram, and although he saw the ring which Bertram gave to Lafew, I’m not sure he recognised it until after Lafew’s comment. The pressure built on Bertram as before, and when Diana came on, I noticed that she held her hand out close to the Countess on “behold this ring”. Naturally, the Countess saw it and recognised it at once, and again was shocked by her own son’s actions. The king asked Diana “is there any here you can call witness?”, which led to Parolles being called from his dinner. Lafew not only knew that he was in the kitchen “eating humble pie”, but went to fetch the man himself. When Parolles arrived, I could see him better this time, as we were opposite his entrance, and he wasn’t carrying any food with him – perhaps I got it wrong last time. His napkin was extremely messy, so it was no surprise that when he gave it to Lafew after “mine eyes smell onions”, Lafew looked at it and handed it back.
After the last line proper – no epilogue – they persuaded Lavatch to stay and show them how to dance. Four couples lined up – king and Countess, Helena and Bertram, Lafew and the widow, and, thanks to the widow’s contrivance, Diana and Pierre Dumaine. Lavatch corrected their posture, and when the dancing began, recited a poem about dancing. There was a brief interlude in the dance when we heard a couple of lines from Bertram and one from Helena – don’t know where they came from – and then the couples waltzed round for a bit longer while Lavatch snuck off.
He came back on for the bows, though, which was just as well, as we wanted to let all the cast know what a splendid job they’d done. I haven’t mentioned every time we laughed during the evening, as that would double the length of these notes: suffice it to say we had a huge dose of the best medicine tonight, and several tissues had to be deployed at the end as well – a great way to spend an evening in the theatre.
© 2016 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me