(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/26.)
Shakespeare's supposedly difficult comedy yields easily the best production of the current
Stratford season. Director Nancy Meckler treats the play not as a problem to be solved but as a wholly beguiling blend of fairytale myth and gender politics: she creates, with the aid of designer Katrina Lindsay, a modern world in which sisterly generosity is sharply contrasted with militarised testosterone
Joanna Horton's excellent Helena is not the single-minded man-chaser Shaw so much admired. Instead, she presents us with a shy doctor's daughter who, spurned by her chosen husband, finds solace in supportive women. Horton treats Charlotte Cornwell's spikily gracious Countess as an adoptive mum and Natalie Klamar's sparky Florentine Diana, whose place she takes in her
husband's bed, as a beneficent helpmate. One of Meckler's inspired touches is
not only to present the notorious "bed-trick" in silhouette, but to show Helena and Diana lovingly clasping hands as they exchange rings. As for Alex Waldmann's Bertram, he is less an iredeemable rotter than the damaged product of a laddish, battle-hungry culture: it is clear he secretly fancies
Helena but is seduced even more by the thrill of danger and a world in which the French gentry are "sick for breathing and exploit".