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The Winters Tale – Harrogate Theatre

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Conrad Nelson

Designer: Dawn Allsopp

Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

The Winter’s Tale is not an obvious choice for Northern Broadsides’ traditional style of bold and direct story-telling, being a play that gives up its secrets in the most indirect way, but Broadsides can be more subtle than most people think and have become even more so with the years. However, this intelligent, sometimes involving and (when required) highly entertaining reading of the play fails to unlock its magic.

The last few plays of Shakespeare were at one time called “Romances”, an inadequate term, certainly, but one which suggests they are not to be judged by the standards of the real world. In The Winter’s Tale Shakespeare uses his own version of magic realism, deliberately breaks the back of the play at halfway and works his way to redemption by high sentiment and low farce – is he trying to make things difficult, to show he can do it?

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, King of Bohemia, have been friends from earliest years, and now Leontes is desperately trying to persuade his friend to stay longer in Sicilia. When, at his encouragement, his wife Hermione succeeds where he failed, he suffers an instant jealous conviction that they are lovers and that the child she is carrying has Polixenes for a father. As lords (diffidently) and the mighty Paulina (forcefully) try to persuade him he’s wrong and even the Delphic oracle totally dismisses his suspicions, the first half becomes almost a clinical analysis of paranoid symptoms.

With the report of the deaths of his wife and son, his character returns to normal, but too late. His new-born child has been left exposed on the coast of Bohemia, the courtier responsible has been eaten by a bear, and we move into the world of dreams and magic. 16 years pass (in a 20-minute interval) and for much of the second half the scene is Bohemia, with lots of merry-making shepherds, Autolycus the trickster and Perdita, she who was lost, the daughter of Leontes. The two worlds ultimately come together – magic or a fiendishly clever playwright?

The first half takes time to catch fire. Conrad Nelson, who also directs, digs deep into the troubled psyche of Leontes. His subdued delivery (between bursts of fury) suggests the inwardness of the character’s problems – there is no point in suggesting a reasoned basis for Leontes’ suspicions – and the staging of his early brief soliloquies, next to other characters but separated by lighting, works well. Unfortunately, there are too many rather colourless performances in a very colourless set; away from proscenium arch staging, maybe there will be more impact. As it is, only Ruth Alexander Rubin’s uncomplicatedly powerful Paulina and Andy Cryer’s upright Camillo, torn by conflicting loyalties, really register. Hannah Barrie, as Hermione, though more convincing as a victim, seldom suggests the paragon she is reputed to be.

The second half is initially dominated by Mike Hugo’s Autolycus. He turns in a musico-comic tour de force, kicking off as a one-man band joined in a kind of blue grass-cum-Western swing romp by the rest of the cast and showcasing some very impressive instrumental skills. He follows up with a Dylan-style talking blues – great fun, but everything around the shepherds’ merry-making turns into a performance and the spontaneity and warmth of the celebration are lost.

Vanessa Schofield (Perdita) and Jordon Kemp (Prince Florizel) are nicely unaffected, Russell Richardson and Adam Barlow are well matched as the Shepherd and his son, Perdita’s adopted family, and Jack Lord (Polixenes) makes his mark with an effective double act with Camillo and a fine outburst of acceptable regal fury.

Runs until 26 September 2015

Photo Credit: Nobby Clark

Writer: William Shakespeare Director: Conrad Nelson Designer: Dawn Allsopp Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes Reviewer: Ron Simpson The Winter’s Tale is not an obvious choice for Northern Broadsides’ traditional style of bold and direct story-telling, being a play that gives up its secrets in the most indirect way, but Broadsides can be more subtle than most people think and have become even more so with the years. However, this intelligent, sometimes involving and (when required) highly entertaining reading of the play fails to unlock its magic. The last few plays of Shakespeare were at one time called “Romances”, an inadequate term,…

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Charlotte Broadbent. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.