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Review of The Winter’s Tale at the Cockpit Theatre

A Winter's Tale - Image credit: Cathy Pyle
A Winter’s Tale – Image credit: Cathy Pyle

Pride comes before a fall they say. If you add jealousy and paranoia to the mix then the fall is probably going to be pretty spectacular. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in the Shakespeare classic The Winter’s Tale. I recently saw a new musically reimagined version of the play presented by the Hermes Experiment at the Cockpit Theatre.

As with most Shakespeare plays, the plot of The Winter’s Tale is fairly simple to understand. Leontes (William McGeough), and his pregnant wife Queen Hermione (Sadie Parsons) are enjoying the company of Leontes childhood friend Polixenes (Robert Willoughby), the King of Bohemia. Polixenes has been staying with the king and queen for some nine months and now feels it is time for him to to return to his own kingdom to tend to affairs and see his son. Leontes desperately attempts to get Polixenes to stay longer, but is unsuccessful and asks Hermione to try and persuade him to stay. She manages to do so but Leontes is a little surprised at how easily Polixenes gave in to her, leading him to suspect the two of them of not only having an affair but believes Polixenes is the father of Hermione’s unborn child.

Leontes orders one of his lords, the noble Camillo (Christopher Adams) to poison Polixenes but instead of carrying out the king’s wishes, Camillo persuades him to sneak away and return to Bohemia. Furious at this, Leontes basically now goes bat ship crazy and publicly calls his Queen an adulteress then has her locked away with her Ladies in Waiting including the rather outspoken Paulina (Louisa Hollway). Seeking divine help, Leontes sends some of his nobles to ask for advice from the Oracle at Delphi. Hermione gives birth to a girl which the king refuses to acknowledge as his and orders that she be taken away and abandoned to her fate. The oracle states that the daughter is Leontes and his Queen is virtuous but the king refuses to accept this and basically raises his fist to Apollo. Never a good move and Leontes suffers mightily at the hands of the Gods.

There is a lot more to The Winter’s Tale than the brief synopsis I’ve given above and, to be honest, I was highly impressed that ‘The Hermes Experiment’ managed to bring the whole thing down to roughly an hour without losing the essence of the pretty convoluted story. In fact, I was pretty impressed with the entire presentation which Director Nina Brazier, has skillfully crafted. All the cast wear black and, there is music – provided by Anne Denholm on Harp, Marianne Schofield on Double Bass, Stephen Williams on Clarinet and soprano Heloise Werner – and some interpretive dance as well. Initially, I wasn’t too sure about the music, especially as this seemed to be an odd combination of instruments, but very quickly I warmed to it and appreciated how the music added to the story on stage. I have to admit, being unfamiliar with the story, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure which noble was speaking or being addressed but, certainly as far as the main characters went, I pretty much kept up all the way through.

The acting was extremely good throughout and William McGeough really shone as we followed Leontes descent from nice chap though paranoid harpy raging against the gods to repentant sinner regretting the mistakes he had made in life. All of the actors – including the musicians and singer who played roles within the play – were really good and there was little to fault in the overall production. Composer Kim Ashton’s score was very much of our time but still seemed to fit in with the flow of the wonderful Shakespearean English

You, like me, may wonder about the title but, according to Wikipedia a play called The Winter’s Tale would immediately indicate to contemporary audiences that the work would present an “idle tale”, an old wives’ tale not intended to be realistic and offering the promise of a happy ending. And I think I can do no more to sum up this production than say it was thoroughly enjoyable and the ending – whilst being completely different from the way I thought it would go – was wonderfully appropriate and left me with a nice warm feeling as I departed the theatre.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

In light of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, award-winning quartet The Hermes Experiment (harp, clarinet, soprano and double bass) have developed a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale during an Aldeburgh Music Residency. Reducing the play to an hour’s duration in collaboration with director Nina Brazier and composer Kim Ashton, the quartet of musicians become part of the drama alongside a group of actors.

The project is generously supported by Arts Council England, RVW Trust, Hinrichsen Foundation and Britten-Pears Foundation.

READ MORE LONDON THEATRE REVIEWS

Nina Brazier, Director
Kim Ashton, Composer
Sophie Mosberger, Designer
Damian Robertson, Lighting Designer
Hanna Grzeskiewicz and Héloïse Werner, Co-Producers

William McGeough, Leontes
Sadie Parsons, Hermione
Robert Willoughby, Polixenes/First Gentleman
Louisa Hollway, Paulina
Christopher Adams, Mamillius/Camillo/Antigonus/Officer/Second Gentleman
Héloïse Werner, Perdita/Soprano
Anne Denholm, Harp
Marianne Schofield, Double Bass
Stephen Williams, Florizel/Clarinet

The Cockpit, London – Tuesday 13th December – 7:30pm

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