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The Winter’s Tale – Liverpool Playhouse

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Conrad Nelson

Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin

This is a tale of two halves.

In the first, King Leontes gets the vaguest hint that his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione, has cuckolded him and is carrying his best friend King Polixenes’ child. It festers into deep suspicion and eventually spirals into an obsession. An obsession that destroys the happiness of all those around him as he wreaks his revenge including jailing Hermione and banishing her baby girl to a place where it should die. This action does have something of the pantomime about it. It is indeed a bleak midwinter in Sicilia. A cold dark time warmed only by the fuel of revenge.

The second perks up with Northern Broadsides adding their familiar brasher music and dance style to bring in a carnival atmosphere. A sheep-shearing competition is the focus of these frivolities. Choreographer Beverley Edmunds’ unashamed hoe-down style dancing goes down very well with the audience so starved of joy by the chill of the first half. Could we have had some before the interval?

Gradually those who have suffered Leontes’ spleen edge towards happiness. But not before Polixenes decides to thwart the love-life of his son Florizel who is mad about a shepherdess. But in true Shakespeare style Florizel’s squeeze is not a poor shepherdess but, surprise, surprise, none other than Perdita, the now the beautiful woman that was Hermione’s banished daughter who refused to die.

This is a modern-dress Shakespeare but with such a simple style the updating works. Even though the tale itself is very much a Fairy Story its stark look at human frailty can be set in any century. Conrad Nelson as Leontes and Jack Lord as Polixenes hold the stage well, perhaps coming across more as modern moguls than medieval kings. But Leontes is no match for the bossy courtier’s wife Paulina (Ruth Alexander Rubin) who champions Hermione with the kind of vehemence that would have lost her head in many Shakespearean courts. Paulina is arguably one of the best parts in this play and Rubin’s terrier like persistence is a pure delight.

At the groundling end of the cast we have Autolycus (Mike Hugo), the lovable rogue, cheerfully trying to swindle and steal from the gullible. His honest dishonesty lights up the stage, lifts the gloom and is a big hit with the audience. Light moments also from Camillo (Andy Cryer) the courtier who has to do a runner with Polixenes when he refuses Leontes’ orders to kill the former. But he returns to be united with his beloved, the mouthy Paulina.

A chilly tale with sunny periods.

Runs until 21st November 2015 | Photo: Nobby Clark

Writer: William Shakespeare Director: Conrad Nelson Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin This is a tale of two halves. In the first, King Leontes gets the vaguest hint that his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione, has cuckolded him and is carrying his best friend King Polixenes’ child. It festers into deep suspicion and eventually spirals into an obsession. An obsession that destroys the happiness of all those around him as he wreaks his revenge including jailing Hermione and banishing her baby girl to a place where it should die. This action does have something of the pantomime about it. It is indeed a bleak…

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