The Winter’s Tale is generally seen as one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays. The mid-play switch from gut-wrenching emotional drama to riotous, comical frolicking, rounded off with the strange, contrived ending, during which everybody seems to be suffering from collective amnesia, makes this a challenge for both director and cast.
Shakespeare Sessions tackle the tricky job with gusto, embracing the dichotomy and revelling in the oddity of the story and the characters alike. They have kept it simple; the comedy is very comic, the tragedy is very tragic and the audience will just have to deal with the vertiginous jumps between the two.
Director Ross McGregor has chosen to underline the general eccentricity by giving both set and costumes a steampunk feel, whilst leaving the script untouched. It is not entirely clear why the story takes place in what appears to be a tethered zeppelin, but so much is baffling in the play that this further mystery goes almost unnoticed. The characters’ strange attire of balaclavas, goggles and bustiers also feels strangely apt, but the inclusion of a couple of contemporary songs jars unpleasantly with the medieval language. That said, Samuel Morgan-Grahame’s music and Martin Condon’s lighting are both excellent and atmospheric, perfectly complementing the action and never dominating.
Without a strong cast, a taxing production such as this could quite easily founder; thankfully there are some incredibly strong performances. Notably Christopher Neels’ Leontes; his descent into jealous psychosis is credible and terrifying and the energy and intensity of his presence is breathtaking. He is ably matched by Elizabeth Appleby, playing his wronged wife, Hermione, with dignity, charm and extraordinarily accessible humanity. Hannah Ellis is feisty and watchable as the heroic Paulina, and Robert Myles is an entertaining and rubber-faced Autolycus. The party scene is funny and masterfully managed, with everybody interacting joyfully and naturally, little sub-plots taking place in corners, and not an inch of the stage or the smallest gesture being wasted.
The secret to this strong production is that absolutely every element works in total harmony with the others. Shakespeare Sessions have risen bravely to the challenge of The Winter’s Tale, and delivered a play that is as impressive as it is entertaining.
Review by Genni Trickett
THE WINTER’S TALE by William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by: Ross McGregor
Produced by: Simon James Collier
Movement Director: Will Pinchin
Production Manager: Ben Kerfoot
Costume Design: Ross McGregor
Fight Choreography: Robert Myles
Bespoke Prop Design: Hannah Ellis
Poster Artwork by: Luke Ridge Illustration
LEONTES: Christopher Neels
HERMIONE: Elizabeth Appleby
POLIXENES: Ben Bradford
CAMILLO: Gareth Kearns
PAULINA / DORCAS: Hannah Ellis
ANTIGONUS / SHEPHERD: David Robert Olley
CLEOMENES / CLOWN: Nic McQuillan
DION / FLORIZEL: Jack Sharman
PERDITA / MAMILLIUS: Remy Moynes
EMILIA / MOPSA: Laura Cooper
AUTOLYCUS / ARCHIDAMUS: Robert Myles
TUES 9TH DEC 2014 – SAT 3RD JAN 2015
TUE – SAT 7.30PM
SAT & SUN MATINEES AT 3.30PM
No performances on 24th/25th/26th December
New Year’s Eve: Matinee only
Extra Matinee Performances: 23rd December & 2nd January at 3.30pm
Friday 12th December 2014