STARK: Gretchen Ramsden as a maid and Luke Buys as Lafew.

ALL’S WELL, THAT ENDS WELL. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Geoffrey Hyland, with Tazme Pillay, Tailyn Ramsamy, Tristan de Beer, Lulu Read, Luke Buys, Naledi Majola, Wynaand Ferreira, Nelson Menell, Laura-lee Mostert, Nicola Moerman, Kyle Manuel, Gretchen Ramsden, Matthew Stuurman, Mandla Mpanjukelwa, Peter Wiisbye and Thukelo Maka. At the UCT Little Theatre until April 9. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews

THIS Shakespearian play could as easily have been titled All is Fair in Love and War, as it explores the tactics employed on the battlefield and the bedroom to subdue one’s enemies and maintain the loyalty of your allies.

The UCT production was performed by third year students and their youthful energy did much to enhance the play and render the motif of unrequited love utterly believable.

At the heart of the story is Helena played by Naledi Majola, who begins the play as a love struck, slightly awkward and painfully shy ward of the Countess of Rousillion (Lulu Read). Majola is perfectly suited for the role and as she pursues her love interest in earnest, despite his reluctance, she reveals a canny sense of survival. She is physically transformed in the piece and her revelation as an ascetic is quite astonishing.

She provides some of the most amusing moments in the play which billed as a comedy is known as one of the “problem plays” as it poses very serious ethical issues. When the king offers her a choice of suitor, faux body builder style strutting of the candidates evokes some very animated facial expressions.

Tristan de Beer as Bertram the object of her affection is the stereotypical pretty boy. His good looks are a foil for his dubious character and lack of moral integrity, as his betrothal seems to mean little to him as he woos each pretty girl he encounters.

His plan to seduce a young woman doesn’t take the strength of a determined woman in to consideration and as the trio of village woman conspire with Helena to trap Bertram they are as scheming as Macbeth’s witches.

Gretchen Ramden, Laura-lee Mostert and Nicola Moerman form an alliance which shows the power of the sisterhood and the scenes of them plotting his entrapment could come straight out of any modern television series. The women, aside from Majola (Helena) and Read as the Countess of Rousillon, play multiple roles and are as comfortable as prudish nurses as they are as fawning countrywomen waving adoringly at the troops.

The surprise of the play is Tazme Pillay who really comes in to his own in this role. As a king racked by some mysterious physical ailment he plays the ailing king well. Once he has been healed by the young Helena he acquires a regal bearing that commands respect from his troops and the audience. Another stand out performance is that of Nelson Menell as Parolles.

He perfects the balance of tomfoolery and cowardice that his role demands. He is a flamboyant accomplice to the Duke, but the moment he feels compromised his loyalty to king and country king flies out the window, along with his dignity.

The set is quintessential Hyland – simple and stark. A few beautifully crafted wooden chests which serve as concealment for costume changes, beds and a make shift whipping post are all that adorn the stage. Kieran McGregor continues on his artistic trajectory after firmly cementing his lighting credentials in Grounded at the Arena Theatre.

Leigh Bishop’s costumes are sublimely beautiful. The men are uniformly clad in black and their military style attire complements the theme of a war that is waged but never seen. Helena’s costume changes in particular are exquisite and the use of colour to denote her transformation provides a beautiful contrast to the otherwise dark design.

Shakespearian scripts afford students the opportunity to explore classic texts and find the universal truths that still hold true and make them their own.

Gender imbalances, the arbitrary nature of generational wealth and the extremes to which ardent passion drives a human being all combine in a swirl of lust, revenge and duplicity. As we commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year, the UCT students can be justifiably proud of their contribution in marking this occasion.

l The next UCT Drama Production is Neil McCarthy’s Langalibalele, directed by Claire Stopford, May 17 to 21. Enquiries: little. [email protected]