All’s Well That Ends Well, The Globe, 24 May 2012
This Gujarati production from Arpana maintained the narrative structure of the play but relocated it to India and Burma in 1900. Roussillon became a village called Rasoli; Bharatram (Bertram) was sent to work for his uncle in Mumbai; and the wars in Italy became an expedition to Rangoon in Burma to deal in heroin. Only the kidnap subplot went missing.
The performance began with the cast singing whilst holding small representations of the elephant god Ganesh, a prayer to whom is common at the beginning of artistic performances in some parts of India, and whose role in the Hindu pantheon as the creator and remover of obstacles of various kinds could be seen as relevant to the obstacles overcome during the course of the play.
It proved to be an evening of charming entertainment, the tone of which was set by Archan Trivedi’s Laffabhai (Lafeu) who acted as narrator. Like many such narrators in Globe to Globe productions, he was a pleasure to listen to despite the language barrier; human warmth was able to transcend such petty obstacles.
It was impossible not to be moved by the sight of Bharatram crouching to touch his mother, Kunti’s (the Countess), shoe as a sign of respect before she in turn anointed his head in maternal blessing. Bharatram was played by Chirag Vora and Kunti by Meenal Patel.
One of the stand-out features of the production was the way in which the beauty and passion of Helena’s soliloquies found elegant expression in the melodious songs of this version’s Heli, played by Mansi Parekh.
We first heard her sing to a musical accompaniment about her love for Bharatram, but this was just a foretaste of delights yet to come.
Bharatram’s uncle, a powerful merchant called Gokuldas (the King), played by Utkarsh Mazumdar, was suffering from tuberculosis. He had a long discussion with his servant, played by Ajay Jairam, explaining how English doctors had not been able to cure him.
During this conversation, the servant misheard the name “Doctor Patterson” as “Doctor Petticoat”. The laboured repetition of this mistaken name could have been a (slightly patronising) in-joke reference to Heli, who was soon to cure Gokuldas of his condition.
Bharatram and Parbat (Parolles), played by Satchit Puranik, toured Mumbai, and this being 1900 one of the new wonders they encountered was a motor car, the sound of whose horn had to be explained to them.
After Heli offered to cure Gokuldas, the old man explained that there would be a heavy price to pay if she failed to restore him to health. She cast a pleading look out to the audience as she launched into a hauntingly beautiful song that expressed her self-doubt in the face of this daunting task.
With no music accompanying her, the solitary sound of her voice encapsulated the loneliness and helplessness of her position. The song proved to be a showstopper powered counter-intuitively by its own frailty.
Gokuldas gave Heli fifteen days to rid him of TB, which of course was compressed into a few seconds. He took pills from her and walked around his ornate chair, the music gradually getting faster and faster as the medicine took effect and his own speed increased until he was completely cured.
Although initially greeting the news that he was to marry Heli with a face like thunder, Bharatram was persuaded by Gokuldas’ offer. The couple were married wearing colourful garlands. Heli’s dress looked bright and cheerful. But despite the outward festivity of the occasion, Bertram still looked unhappy.
After the interval, Heli sang about the joys of her new life as Bharatram’s wife. The optimistic delight in her voice took her mood to new heights. So when Bharatram ordered her back to Rasoli, and once there rejected her by letter, setting her seemingly impossible conditions, the crushing of her expectations was made to feel even more of bitter disappointment.
Bharatram was ambitious and tried out Gokuldas’ chair for size when indicating that he wanted to be sent to Rangoon to establish links with the heroin trade there. His wish granted, he met Thuwang (the Widow) and her alluring daughter Alkini (Diana), whose exoticism was marked by her dancing alluringly in a golden mask. He was immediately smitten with her in a particularly oafish, dumbstruck way. Thuwang was played by Natasha Singh and Alkini by Nishi Doshi.
The rejected Heli had also made her way to Rangoon and when Alkini realised that the man making advances to her was Heli’s husband, they formed their plan.
A bed was wheeled out for the bed trick. The veiled Alkini asked Bharatram for his ring and having obtained it asked him to lower the lights. He went to the side of the bed to blows out a candle. While his back was turned, Heli nipped in to wearing an identical dress and veil to replace Alkini. The couple sat on the bed and touched each other chastely and tenderly, holding their position momentarily to represent their night of passion.
The audience applauded Heli’s triumphant appearance at the end of the performance as the shocked Bharatram realised that she had completed the seemingly impossible challenges he had set her: conceiving a child by him and getting the ring from his finger.
Gokuldas was also mightily impressed with her resourcefulness and told Bharatram that he should reciprocate the depth of her love. And because all ended well, the requisite change of heart was forthcoming.
It felt like the majority of the audience were Gujarati speakers, which meant that when narrator Laffabhai cracked in-jokes for them, the response was loud and enthusiastic.
At one point someone in the middle gallery shouted back. At almost any other Globe performance that would have been disruptive.
But because this performance was essentially a community coming together to celebrate its culture, the audience member’s intervention felt completely appropriate.
The narrator did make one concession to the non-Gujaratis present: after announcing the interval in Gujarati, he looked down at some obviously English groundlings, put an imaginary cup to his lips and said “Tea! Coffee!”
The atmosphere at this performance came close to the ideal that Globe to Globe had hoped to achieve.