NO one ever said Shakespeare was easy, but Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s interpretation of one of his least well known and more demanding plays at the Bristol venue certainly brings out the best of The Bard.

All’s Well that Ends Well is a complicated tale. Gentlewoman Helena has fallen in love with her childhood friend, the Count Bertram; but of course Bertram doesn’t love her back. Forced into marriage at the King of France’s behest, Bertram refuses to consummate the wedding and heads to Italy to fight in the Tuscan wars, vowing never to return to his wife. However, Helena follows her errant husband to the continent where his philandering ways lead to a deal being struck with a local lass and the ‘virgin bride’ ending up with child. When Helena also manages to fool everyone into thinking that she has died, Bertram realises that he did love his wife after all. So when they finally get together, it turns out that actually all’s well in the end.

Audience laughter punctuates the play from start to end and the plot, although containing many sub-plots and twists, is convoluted in a way only Shakespeare would contrive. It is actually a simple love story.

In stark contrast to the very masculine Hamlet, which has recently enjoyed its own very successful run, All’s Well is very much a lady’s play, and artistic director Andrew Hilton makes the most of this stark juxtaposition with some very strong female roles. Stand out performances come from Julia Hills as the Countess of Rossillion and Eleanor Yates as her charming but manipulative ward. Nicky Goldie also deserves praise for her portrayal of the Widow Capilet.

Amongst the men, Craig Fuller is particularly well cast as the arrogantly handsome Bertram, as is Christopher Bianchi`s ailing King and Marc Geoffrey as Lavatch. Special mention must also go to Alan Mahon and Callum McIntyre in their supporting roles as the Dumain brothers, providing light relief on the battlefield when the plot with their taunting of Parolles.

SaTTF brings outstanding performances to this wonderful Bristol venue year after year and they are something to be treasured and celebrated. Even if you are not particularly familiar with All’s Well you should still catch it at the Tobacco Factory while you can – you never know, the chances of it ending well are very high indeed!