I have to admit that until last year I had never seen a production of The Winter’s Tale and now I have seen two great productions within three months. This production is staged in the beautiful surroundings of Holy Trinity Church on Guildford High Street; the staging is therefore both dominated by and limited by its amazing setting.
Special mention must be made to the creative team of the director, Caroline Devlin, and her team of designers who used light, space and sound to create the magical atmosphere that this play requires. The action takes place mainly on two stages to the left and right of the audience; the action alternates between the two stages, giving a similar experience to watching a tennis match. It is a relief when a stage is installed in the central aisle in the middle of the first act and the main action takes place there.
The Winter’s Tale has two distinct halves with two distinct settings: Sicilia and Bohemia. Caroline Devlin has decided to set the play at the time of the height of the British Empire. Sicilia is Britain with Hermione and Leontes as the Victoria and Albert figures, a picture of domestic bliss and adored by their subjects. I loved the idea of setting Bohemia in India with Polixenes a majestic Rajah and with colourful costumes and vibrant dancing. At one point bhangra dancing is taking place all around to the sides, front and back of the audience. I literally did not know where to look.
Standout performances came from Gideon Turner as Leontes, who ably demonstrates the change from marital harmony to blind jealousy through abject remorse and final jubilation. Sarah Gobran is charming as the saintly, wronged Hermione and Matt Pinches is a great Camillo. Robert Mountford is quite inspiring as the Bohemian King Polixenes, with a voice as resonant as the honorary patron Brian Blessed, who I was delighted to see in the audience.
In the second act, the rural simplicity of the Punjab is beautifully portrayed with the sheep shearing festival celebrated by the local villagers and the young lovers Florizel and Perdita, in reality the son and daughter of Polixenes and Leontes.
Imran Momen and Selma Brook are marvellous in these roles. Additionally, I particularly enjoyed Harmage Singh Kalirai as the old shepherd who adopts Perdita and the comic turn from Chris Porter as the rogue Autolycus.
This production may not have the opulent beauty of Kenneth Branagh’s recent triumph but I think it does a better job at explaining the quite difficult story of The Winter’s Tale. This is a production worthy of the West End and it deserves to be seen.
Review by Sally Knipe
GULILFORD SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
THE WINTER’S TALE
By William Shakespeare
Director Caroline Devlin
Designer Neil Irish
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford
8th to 27th February 2016
Following on from last year’s production of King Lear starring Brian Blessed, this February, the award-winning Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) kick off their 10th Anniversary Year with Shakespeare’s great late play, The Winter’s Tale, to be staged in Guildford’s Holy Trinity Church.
The company which has built a reputation on high quality Shakespeare and critically acclaimed adaptations of classic works of literature, will present Shakespeare’s unsettling work of contrasts: winter and summer; old and young; fantasy and reality in a production to be directed by Caroline Devlin and designed by Neil Irish.
Staged in the newly restored church on Guildford High Street, the production will be set around 1860, with the Sicilian royal family emulating the power and majesty of Victorian England, whilst Bohemia will reflect the colour and vibrancy of the Indian sub-continent.
Caroline Devlin and Neil Irish are joined by Sound Designer Matt Eaton, who also worked on the last two winter seasons Holy Trinity. The cast includes Tracy Brabin as Paulina, Selma Brooke as Perdita, Sarah Gobran as Hermione, Harmage Singh Kalirai as Old Shepherd, Robert Mountford as Polixenes, Gideon Turner as Leontes, Matt Pinches as Camillo/Cleomenes and Chris Porter Antigonus/Autolycus
Taking inspiration from The Winter’s Tale, and the ambitions for the theatre company’s future, GSC’s 10th Anniversary programme has been given the theme of ‘New Beginnings’, and will also include The Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing to be staged later in the year. 2016 follows the company’s most successful year to date with nearly 15,000 audience members and wall to wall sell out performances.
Guildford Shakespeare Company is a site responsive theatre company specialising in Shakespeare. It uses found spaces, local landmarks, heritage sites and vacant buildings in and around Guildford to create dynamic and challenging productions. In so doing the company has helped to develop and nurture community interest in these sites, both culturally and economically and has supported improvements to venues through continued, varied use and sustaining the town’s cultural heritage. Their mission is to re-ignite peoples’ passion for live theatre, Shakespeare and great story-telling. Together, with leading industry artists, over the past decade they have produced 27 home-grown dynamic and inspiring productions that have been accessible to the widest possible audience.
In the last 12 months alone, GSC have staged 140 live performances with productions of King Lear starring the mighty Brian Blessed and original adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and Alice in Wonderland.