Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: David Thacker
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Former Artistic Director David Thacker returns to the Octagon to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a new production of The Winter’s Tale, one of his latest and most unusual plays. Difficult to categorise, The Winter’s Tale is both tragedy and comedy and features a host of narrative conventions seen throughout Shakespeare’s earlier work; a tyrannical King, jealousy, disguises, festivals, the supernatural. Essentially two plays in one, the result is both bewildering and beguiling, often at the same time.
Act One sees Leontes, King of Sicilia (Rob Edwards) become convinced that his wife Hermione (Amy Nuttall) is pregnant with the child of his friend Polixenes (Christopher Wright). Consumed by jealousy he dispatches his servant to poison Polixenes and imprisons Hermione, shunning their newborn daughter and forcing Hermione to stand trial. Belatedly realising his mistake he believes he has lost everything and grieves the loss of his family, little realising his daughter Perdita has been found and raised by a Shepherd on the coast of Bohemia.
Act Two brings an initially startling shift in tone, with sixteen years having passed and Perdita (Leila Mimmack) now grown and in love with Florizel, son of Polixenes. Where Act One was full of intensity and drama, Act Two is brimming with vitality and joy featuring wildly energetic music and choreography exuberantly performed.
Every cast member has previously appeared at the Octagon and regular attendees will be aware of the high standard these actors always reach. Fresh from his recent superb portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird Rob Edwards is again impressive as Leontes, capturing the rage and envy of the King and possessing a clear, commanding voice well suited to Shakespeare’s prose. Amy Nuttall, making a welcome return to the Octagon after six years, is heartbreakingly poised and dignified as the wronged queen Hermione and Margot Leicester is compelling in her fierce condemnation of the King.
Designer James Cotterill’s set and costumes effectively reflect the differences between both Acts; with the grand, stately court of Sicilia later adorned with leafy branches and twinkling lights to denote the more informal Bohemia. Adrian Johnston’s music is lively although with the audience around three sides some of the dialogue is very occasionally inaudible.
Any real flaws are in the play not the production; the tonal shift and narrative leaps may be too much for some and are what has led The Winter’s Tale to be categorised as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’. The reunion of Leontes with Perdita and Polixenes is merely described by secondary characters, with Shakespeare himself writing that in missing it “then have you lost a sight which was to be seen, cannot be spoken of’. Even though this is most likely deliberately intended to give the final reunion greater weight, it still feels like a missed opportunity.
It is a relief then that the final scene is indeed a magical and quite moving conclusion that is beautifully performed and designed.
The Winter’s Tale is a theatrical curiosity, a hybrid of Shakespeare’s styles that sets it apart from his other works. Ultimately a tale of forgiveness and redemption, this is a classy production elevated by a host of accomplished performances that run the whole range of human emotion.
Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: Ian Tilton