Composer and lyricist: Howard Goodall
Writer: Nick Stimson
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Some shows have no luck at all. In the same week that the arts pages of the national press have, along with The Reviews Hub, been heaping extravagant praise on the National Theatre for its groundbreaking pro/am musical version of Shakespeare’s Pericles, along comes a youth company with another new musical based on one of the Bard’s plays. It is often said that Winter follows too soon after Summer.
The showcasing of emerging acting and singing talent is always a good thing and, on the whole, Youth Musical Theatre UK delivers in that respect. Their problem is the material which they have to work with. If we are being asked to judge Howard Goodall and Nick Stimson’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a work in progress, then, on the evidence of this production, it’s chances of progressing further look slim.
Stimson’s book transfers the action to the former Soviet Union in the Cold War era, a place that is at least more wintery than Shakespeare’s Sicilian setting. Beyond that, his simplified, prosaic and sweetened version does a no better job than did the Bard in making sense of the plot, a violent tragedy which turns into a romantic comedy. Here, in the first act, Governor Leon (Will Hopkins) erupts in a jealous rage at the perceived infidelity of his wife Comrade Ekatarina (Izzy Mackie) and comes close to destroying all around him.
To begin the second act, the action switches to a ‘60s hippy commune and designer Libby Todd’s austere sets, adorned only by dark red banners, are replaced by a bright orange drape, with the company appearing in multi-coloured costumes. We are now on the way to reconciliation and redemption, culminating in a scene more ludicrous than in the original, including, in a departure from Shakespeare, Leon’s son rising from 16 years on his sick bed, looking exactly the same as before.
The performances are inconsistent, the best actors not being the best singers and vice versa. Hopkins is not the first actor to have fallen at the hurdle of making the erratic actions of Leon (or Leontes) credible, but he is a decent singer. Mackie comes closer to ticking both boxes and, as the story unfolds, Ines Mazdon-Elas (as Perdita) and Alistair Oakley (Luka) make an appealing pair of young lovers, possibly helped by being close to their characters’ ages.
Goodall’s score is melodic, filled with either joy or melancholy, but its failing is that there is too little variety for a story which has the sharpest of contrasts. In the first half, the music carries no sense of the fury and injustice that the drama demands. Goodall’s compositions work best for chorus singing, at which the YMT singers excel, as in the splendid second act opening, but, even then, the song is one that could have come from almost any musical, with little direct relevance to this story.
Perhaps most disappointing is the feeling that so much of Bronagh Lagan’s production lacks life, not helped by Phyllida Crowley-Smith’s dull choreography, some of the dancing resembling a village hall aerobics class. It pains to dishearten young performers, but YMT deserves better than this.
Runs until 2 September 2018