Arts & Culture

All's Very Well at Bard on The Beach

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:45 PDT, Thu July 11, 2019

Last Updated: 12:22 PDT, Tue July 30, 2019

Kudos to Bard on the Beach, Western Canada’s largest outdoor Shakespeare festival. Long known for gender and colour blind casting, this year the festival has gone one better. In staging the Bollywood version of “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Bard has included Indian culture in the play as well.

Kudos to Bard on the Beach, Western Canada’s largest outdoor Shakespeare festival. Long known for gender and colour blind casting, this year the festival has gone one better. In staging the Bollywood version of “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Bard has included Indian culture in the play as well.

No stranger to bending time, gender or fashion, in their day Shakespeare’s plays were often performed with costumes not of their written era. Bard on the Beach continues in that fine tradition and takes the next step towards inclusion and education.

Bard based All’s Well on Boccaccio’s Decameron. While Boccaccio’s work was set in Florence, Italy around 1348, the Bard’s text was written at the dawn of the seventeenth century. Shakespeare set the beginning of All’s Well That Ends Well in the French court and the rest of the play in the Forest of Arden.

So, taking liberties with dates and locations is nothing new for Shakespearian productions.

Retaining the vibrancy and words of the original play, this production is set in 1947 India as the country’s independence from Britain looms.

In the final days of the British Raj, the ruling of India as part of the Empire, the first half of the play shows us life from the English ex-pats’ point of view as Indian nationals interact with their “masters” on the Brit’s terms.

One subtle note at the beginning, the opening dance number, redolent with Bollywood music and motion, shows the servant women joyously cutting a rug. While each is in white, their costumes represent each of the three main religions of India, united in one dance. Later, when partition looms, that unity falls painfully, and sometimes violently, apart.

The second half of the production skillfully shows Indian village life, in all its vibrancy and machinations. It also shows the turmoil that led to the British-led partition, the dividing of a long-united collection of over a dozen Indian provinces, into the Muslim country of Pakistan, and the Hindu country of India.

This is a comedy that doles out laughter while simultaneously dealing with serious issues of race, colonialism and sexual politics. In the sexual politics realm, Shakespeare offers much language full of racy double-entendres, that are as true today as in 1600 or 1947, regardless of country or continent.

First off, all of the actors are stellar. Sarena Parmar as Helena is stunningly beautiful, perfect for the role. The role calls on all her exemplary skills as an actor, dancer and singer. It made me wonder, right off the bat, how many casting agents overlook South Asian actors of her skill.

Lucia Frangione as the English Countess gives a pitch perfect performance. Bernard Cuffling as the viceroy, a role played in real life Indian independence by Lord Louis Mountbatten, takes a small role and enriches it with his full pallet of skills gained over an entire career of rich roles. Cuffling can get a laugh – reminder: this is a comedy – out of the tiniest of lines, delivered with subtle perfection in timing and intonation.

Parolles, skillfully played by Jeff Gladstone, offers comic relief as the sexist buffoon throughout the play.

The Dumaine brothers, in this production, are two Sikh soldiers played with honesty and subtly by Munish Sharma and Nadeem Phillip. At the talk-back after the play, (Note: Go to Bard on Tuesdays to have a chance to ask your questions of the actors after the play.) one of the brothers said, “In Act 2, we see the people behind the image, so that when we see them later, we know they are not just nameless soldiers, they too are people with emotions, passions and beliefs.”

A special mention to Alan Brodie and Conor Moore’s lighting design and Carmen Alatorre’s costuming. As an example, they combined with finesse when the female lead Helena dons a long scarf in the moonlight. The lighting creates a halo around her through the yellow veil which at first reveals then with a subtle change in lighting, conceals her identity.

The set was simple yet opulent when part of the Raj, vibrant and colourful when village life mulled about. Simple transitions, often affected by the actors themselves, transformed the locale clearly and quickly.

Sitting on the edge of an aisle, sometimes the blocking meant actors were, well, blocking the view. It’s hard to satisfy all audience members in a U-shaped seating plan. That said, this is your chance to see a live action Bollywood musical up close and personal.

The audio was outstanding. From the audibility of the dialogue to the vibrant music that orchestrated the Bollywood dance numbers. It was clear to see that the actors were chosen not only for their outstanding acting abilities but for their dance skills as well.

I had hoped to ask about the ambiguous ending but the moderator for the talk back asked almost all of the questions so there was only time for one inquiry from the audience. Another attendee says that is common with this one moderator. While he asked good questions, this valuable part of audience participation was lost.

Bard of the Beach’s production of “All’s Well that Ends Well” goes beyond colour-blind casting. This production integrates a rich culture, a vibrant culture that is woven into the fabric of our own country, to further the argument for inclusion, as well as to educate and, most of all, entertain.

Co-created and co-directed by Johnna Wright, of Saskatoon’s famous Wright theatre family, and Rohit Chokhani, the artistic director of Diwali in BC, this production is not to be missed.

With some shows already sold out, “All’s Well that Ends Well” runs through August 11 at Bard on the Beach at Kits Point in Vancouver. The site is wheelchair accessible. For tickets go to or phone (604) 739-0559 

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