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The Winter’s Tale

by on 27 January 2019

A Sad Tale’s Best for Winter

The Winter’s Tale

by William Shakespeare

Teddington Theatre Club, Hampton Hill Theatre until 1st February

Review by Andrew Lawston

The Winter’s Tale is a play of two halves, lurching from courtly psychological drama to rustic comedy with only an infamous bear chase sequence to separate the two. Teddington Theatre Company gamely takes on both elements in this ambitious but confident new production from director Michelle Hood at Hampton Hill Theatre. By her own admission in the Director’s Notes, Michelle veered towards romance and mythology rather than literal geography when deciding on the settings for the two kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia. This is somewhat supported by Shakespeare’s liberal approach to geography throughout the play, but no such liberties are taken with the text.

winters tale - 1 (11)

Against Fiona Auty’s austere backlit set of Regency pillars and stylised white trees, Neelaksh Sadhoo opens the play as Leontes, the king who starts to believe, with frankly implausible swiftness, that his wife Hermione (Alana Wren), who conveys infinite patience throughout for her dangerously petulant husband, has been unfaithful to him with his childhood friend King Polixenes of Bohemia. It’s a challenging part to portray convincingly, and Neelaksh gives a sincere portrayal of a genuinely tormented man, which sells the character’s bizarre plummet into jealous insanity.

winters tale - 1 (3)As Leontes grows ever more paranoid, Matt O’Toole’s likeable Camillo is torn between loyalty and morality, opting to flee Sicilia with Polixenes. This perceived betrayal accelerates the chaos in the court as Dionne King’s wily Paulina and Darren McIlroy’s loyal Antigonus struggle in their own ways to make Leontes see sense. As he ignores the pleas of his whole court, and even the Oracle of Delphi (whose wisdom is communicated via a spectacular jewelled treasure chest), the cast avoid the temptation to ham up the increasingly melodramatic material, instead opting to play everything straight.

The Sicilian court is rounded out by solid supporting turns from Jo Hayes, Susan Gerlach, Liz Williams, Luke Daxon, Eilish Langham, Zoe Arden, and Jenny Hazell, most of whom later don rural garb for scenes set in the Bohemian countryside. The contrast between formal Sicilia and apparently-carefree Bohemia could not be clearer as hair is let down, and dancing performed. In their Sicilian mode, the courtiers and ladies in waiting lend further credibility to Leontes’ central performance as they react to his outbursts with fear, touched with concern for a once-great leader.

winters tale - 1 (16)With Leontes’ young son Mamillius (played with great confidence on this occasion by Toby Ewen) and wronged queen Hermione both dead from grief, the king finally comes to his senses, but his new-born daughter Perdita has already been taken out into the wilderness by Antigonus. Antigonus is of course the pursuee in Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, and Michelle Hood has made a sensible decision to depict the bear primarily through the use of sound. No sooner is Antigonus off stage than Sue Reoch appears as the Shepherdess to save the infant Perdita, and this hitherto relentless tragedy finally turns the corner into a more optimistic tale.

winters tale - 1 (6)After spending much of the first half as a wordlessly disapproving courtier, Nicola Doble raises the energy going into the interval with a hugely spirited and physical performance as Pe’er. She maintains this tone throughout the second half and provided some of the show’s most enjoyable moments in her scenes with Steve Webb’s equally energetic Autolycus. There is some well-timed physical comedy between the pair during their first meeting which almost makes you forget the jealousy, insanity and death in the play’s opening scenes.

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winters tale - 1 (30)The play’s second half takes place some sixteen years after the first. This is made explicitly clear in a post-interval chorus interjection from Time herself, Fran Billington setting the scene and indeed the tone for the rest of the play in a spectacular costume embroidered with various celestial objects. Time introduces Prince Florizel, son of King Polixenes, and Perdita. Charlie Higgs and Melissa Paris play these young lovers as a sweet and mutually infatuated pair, but their story is quickly overshadowed by that of their parents.

winters tale - 1 (18)As sixteen years have passed, those parents, and many of the rest of the cast, have greyed and aged over the course of the interval, with Leontes now looking particularly haggard. Newly-minted silver foxes King Polixenes and Camillo up the ante further by wearing outrageous false beards and hooded cloaks for a trip into the countryside to spy on Florizel and Perdita, and Chris Mounsey shows his range as he moves from bemused spectator to apoplectic monarch over the course of a sheepshearing contest.

winters tale - 1 (7)Mags Wrightson’s wardrobe draws a clear contrast between the buttoned up tunic and elaborate dresses of Sicily, and the loose peasant clothes of Bohemia, and the actors move with much greater fluidity and physicality throughout the Bohemia scenes, particularly throughout the dances choreographed by Sophie Hardie, which provide a striking contrast with the stately court dance that opens the show, choreographed by Fran Billington. This contrast is also heightened by the musical style, and even Gary Stevenson and Patrick Troughton’s lighting, which becomes much warmer for the rural scenes.

All things considered I had mixed feelings when the action returned to Sicilia for the final act. But there is a frantic pace to events as revelations come thick and fast, several of them offstage. The confirmation of Perdita’s royal heritage, and the reconciliation of both Polixenes and Leontes, and Polixenes and his son Florizel, are all related in a short scene between Autolycus and several courtiers.

Boasting a large cast, of whom many are playing multiple characters, and several dramatic changes of scenery, stage manager Harri Osborne and her team keep the action moving smoothly on stage, with occasional transitions smoothed over by musical interludes from Will Williams.

With its multiple settings, and drastic change in tone, The Winter’s Tale is a daunting prospect for any amateur company to stage. But by respecting Shakespeare’s text, and opting for a simple but adaptable set, Teddington Theatre Company have pulled off an enjoyable and entertaining production of one of the Bard’s most challenging plays.

Andrew Lawston
January 2019

Photography by Sarah J. Carter

One Comment
  1. Anne Warrington permalink

    A full rounded and informative review, particularly useful as am seeing production this evening.

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