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Exceptional cast make The Winter's Tale easy to warm to



Review by David Munro

EDWARD Hall seems to be going through the seasons. A couple or so years ago he directed a very successful, all-male A Midsummer Night's Dream; now he gives us what looks likely to be just as successful - The Winter's Tale.

The Winter's Tale is not a Shakespearean play which is often seen. The reason, I suspect, is that it contains implausibilities of character and plot which don’t commend it for revival.

Like Othello, it is a study in jealousy although unlike Othello all ends happily, or reasonably so considering the vagaries of the plot which is as follows:- Leontes, the king of Sicily, believes his wife, Hermione, has been unfaithful to him with his best friend, Polixines, King of Bohemia.

Having failed to kill Polixines, he imprisons Hermione who gives birth to a daughter, Perdita, in prison.

Paulina, a lady in waiting, takes the child to the king who commands her husband, Antigonus, to leave the child on a sea shore to perish.

Leontes then learns that his son has died, also Hermione.

Meanwhile, Antigonus takes the baby, Perdita, to Bohemia where he is killed by a bear and Perdita is rescued by an old shepherd who brings her up.

Florizel, son of Polixines, falls in love with Perdita and when his father objects, flees with her and the old shepherd to – guess where - Sicily where Leontes welcomes his daughter.

Paulina takes Leontes, who is now sorry he was so horrid to Hermione, to see a statue of her which turns out not to be a statue but – wait for it - Hermione herself, who has been living with Paulina, the report of her death having been greatly exaggerated.

Polixines turns up – surprise, surprise - and when he finds out that his son’s intended isn’t a peasant girl but Leontes’ daughter, he consents to their marriage.

So love conquers all except for poor Paulina who lost her husband and had to live with Hermione for all those years as a substitute.

She was given to a minor character to wed as a reward but perhaps she was then allowed to go bear hunting with Polixines – we must hope so.

In addition to the high born personages, Shakespeare adds one of his clowns, Autolycus, for light relief who is a pedlar and 'snapper-up of unconsidered trifles' and a jolly rogue withal, who pushes the plot along in the second act.

One can perhaps understand, even on this abbreviated plot summary, why it is not one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and is only taken off the shelf and dusted down when some director, or actor, wants to try something different.

Edward Hall’s angle is to produce it with an all male cast and at great speed, which carries the audience along and almost makes it plausible.

Believable or not, it is nonetheless in his hands great entertainment – something one does not normally associate with Shakespeare. He is blessed with a superb cast who double the characters with aplomb, speak the words 'trippingly' and coherently, appearing to enjoy themselves as much as the audience did.

He has chosen to set the play in a sort of temporal never-never land with modern music and anachronistic props.

The costumes also differentiate the classes. The nobles and courtiers wear lounge suits, whereas the rude mechanicals look as if they had walked in from a touring production of The White Horse Inn.

The 'women' are given asexual clothes, trouser suits and psuedo- Grecian draperies which drain from the female impersonations any suggestion of camp drag, but yet are strangely effective.

As the cast play many parts, it is difficult to single out any one actor for particular praise.

Richard Clothier was a sympathetic, yes I use the word advisedly, Leontes; giving him a humanity which made his final volte face credible and moving. (He also appears to have contributed to the very effective music, so clearly he is a not just a very good actor but a talent to be reckoned with!)

Tony Bell, as Autolycus, removed any suggestion of 'rude mechanicals'' from the part and made it very funny. I have always deprecated Shakespeare’s attempts at humour but Mr Bell has made me eat my words.

To have the virtuous Hermione and a rude (in every sense of the word) shepherdess played by the same actor seems a strange piece of casting until you saw how versatile Simon Scardifield proved in both parts.

Adam Levy made the put-upon Paulina a strong, suffragette like character and in his scenes with Leontes made one forget his gender other than to wonder whether he/she came originally from Lesbos; a powerful performance in any sex.

I could continue down the cast list in a similar vein but it would be wearyingly repetitious.

To those I have not mentioned, I would only say that this failure was not from lack of admiration of their worth, far from it, I have seldom appreciated ensemble playing so much, it is simply lack of space.

Suffice to say, I salute you all and give you my thanks for a wonderfully entertaining evening which I had never expected.

To sum up; this is a first-rate performance of second-rate Shakespeare and proves to me, once and for all, that in the hands of masters of their trade, the Bard’s plays justify the popular appeal they have maintained for all these years.

It is a highly professional production, superbly executed and one which no one who has a modicum of interest in the Theatre should miss.

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
Music by Tony Bell, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, Richard Clothier and Jules Werner.
Directed by Edward Hall.
Designer – Michael Pavelka.
Lighting – Ben Ormerod.
Movement – Adam Levy.
CAST: Vince Leigh; Richard Clothier; Simon Scardifield; Tam Williams; Bob Barrett; Dugald Bruce-Lockhart; Jules Werner; Tony Bell; James Tucker; Alasdair Craig; Adam Levy; Chris Myles.

A Watermill Theatre Production by Propeller
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ
Tues, May 18 – Sat, May 21, 2005
Evenings 7.45pm
Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm
Box Office: 0870 060 6651

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