The Winter's Tale

Tue 3rd – Sat 7th May 2016

reviews

Conor McKee

at 23:25 on 3rd May 2016

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This was a very enjoyable production, making use of folk music and dance alongside vivid performances. Particularly good were Tom Beaven as Leontes and Ellen Gage as Hermione, with the former's transition from neurotic jealousy to contrition proving thoroughly convincing. A problem often faced by directors of Shakespeare's late plays is the emotional range they demand, defying genre and often combining tragic predicaments with broad comedy and redemptive pathos. I felt that this rendition of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ met these demands and showed particular flair in its handling of the pastoral scenes in the play’s third and fourth acts.

The production's set design was especially impressive, with the well-furnished interiors of the play’s first half moving away to reveal a much larger space for the play's pastoral interlude. Like the forest of Arden in 'As you Like It' or the Athenian wilderness in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', the pastoral world of 'A Winter's Tale' is diametrically opposed to urbane court and acts as a refuge for lovers and those condemned to death. The sudden expansion of the set, and the variety of props that were introduced to fill it helped the play to create this new narrative domain, as did its more complex soundscape, with the introduction of banjos, guitars, violins and drums.

It was in these scenes that we also saw the cast working especially well as an ensemble, with choreographed dances that were lively but never out of control. Jack Gardener's Autolycus was a successful comic figure who regularly drew laughs from the audience both through the delivery of well timed lines and his use of props. There were a few forgotten lines at one point but the cast moved on with little hesitation and this did not significantly affect the quality of the show. These scenes captured the joy of rural living and threw the play’s tragic elements into starker relief.

Costumes were also used to great avail, with Leontes’ descent into grief embodied in his move from a suit and cravat to a battered set of pyjamas. A weathered and crumbling version of the first set is brought on for the final act, now strewn with leaf litter from the pastoral scenes. This gave a sense of the damaging effects of Leontes’ uncontrollable grief on his kingdom as well as his person. By using the same piece of set as the dock in which Hermione stands accused and the podium upon which her statue is displayed the director reminds us that that the play has come full circle and yet is utterly transformed.

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Clare Cavenagh

at 08:25 on 4th May 2016

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If you only go to one show this term, there are lots of great reasons to make it The Winter's Tale. This production featured universally great acting, intriguing and engaging staging and foot-tapping music. Thanks to the cast and production team, this is a Shakespeare play you can well and truly get swept up in. If you do English, going to see The Winter's Tale counts as revision. If you don't, go anyway.

The audience arrived with the curtain open, and characters already onstage, sitting around a formal dining table. The court of Sicilia is upright and respectable, if a little cold. The second act however took things to the far more free-and-easy Bohemia, with hay bales to sit on, leaves strewn across the stage, and wheelbarrows and crates lying everywhere. Bohemia is a pretty chill place to be - a sort of folksy paradise where everyone wears knitted jumpers and plays acoustic guitar. This change in staging was a great way to get the audience on board with the light-hearted comedy which happens in this second half, taking them away from the stifling atmosphere and recent tragedies of Leontes's Sicila, and dropping them off somewhere altogether more fun.

The division between the two kingdoms was further emphasized by costume. In Sicilia, dress is almost oppressively formal. Leontes wears a suit jacket so closely tailed that it looks like he might tear it as his anger mounts, his young son is dressed in a shirt and tie, and the powerful Paulina (played by Emma Blacklay-Piech) struts around the stage in a suit of her own, lifted above the other characters by a pair of fearsome-looking stiletto heels. From the first scene, Polixenes (Ronald Prokes) is a clue that things will be different in Bohemia. In spite of being at court, he wears walking boots, washed-out jeans and a leather jacket, looking far more at home once the action has arrived in the laid-back kingdom of Bohemia.

The acting from this superb cast was universally great, and really, everyone deserves a mention here. Tom Beavan stood out as a very angry, and then very sad Leontes, pushing his character's emotional lows far enough to make the audience understand his decisions. Ellen Gage was fantastic too as Hermione, beginning beautiful and charming and very queenly, but every bit able to match Beavan's emotion as things unravelled. In the second half however, a few scene- (and nearly play-) stealing performances completely delighted the audience. Jack Gardner as Autolycus danced, sang, flirted, stripped and stole his way across the stage, making trouble for the other characters, enchanting the audience, and singing some great tunes along the way. The pair who, very deservedly, got the biggest laughs however were Rosie Brown and Henry Wilkinson as a female shepherdess, adopted mother to Perdita, and her clownish brother. They wrung every last drop of humour out of their appearances in the play and have created what I suspect will be many an audience member's favourite characters.

This production is also filled with music by composer Toby Marlow. In Bohemia, people sing all the time, passing guitars around and belting out ballads. There is even a couple of dance sequences, everyone jumping and stamping to the sound of an excellent folk band (Anastasia Bruce-Jones, Jacob Bradley, Patrick Wilson, Oliver Vibrans and Neil Pointon). These scenes were a joy to watch, with many a tapping foot amongst the audience.

The Winter's Tale left me, and many others I saw as I left the theatre, grinning from ear to ear. A tragic and comic adventure, this play has something for everyone. I think it is a great vote of confidence in the success of this production that it managed to transfix an entire class of primary-aged students for the whole three hours. I highly reccomend that you grab a ticket before everyone else does, if only to see a truly frightening rendition of that infamous stage direction, 'exit pursued by a bear'...

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