Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Max Webster
Composer: Alasdair Macrae
Reviewer: S.E. Webster
Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Whatever the season audiences everywhere will be guaranteed at least one production of a Shakespearean drama. The vogue for transporting Shakespeare to new settings shows no sign of waning. Thus it is on the crest of this particular theatrical wave that Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre is showcasing their new Scots production of the classic tragi-comedy, The Winter’s Tale. Featuring an impressive cast this new version is a refreshing and unique re-examination of one of Shakespeare’s finest plays.
Relocating Bohemia and Sicilia to Scotland, purportedly to Edinburgh and Fife, this new version also features Scots as well as Standard English. James Robertson, two-time winner of the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year award and co-founder and editor of Scots language imprint Itchy Coo, has written the Scots language translation for this production. Simultaneously sympathetic to the Shakespearean original While bringing the dialogue forward into the 21st century, the Scots and Standard English reinforce the change in tone, culture and outlook between the world of Leontes’ court and that of Bohemia and this reworking succeeds on all levels.
There are some particularly strong performances from the female members of the cast. Notably, Maureen Beattie (Paulina) and Frances Grey (Hermione), both give passionate performances that are moving and sincere, While Janet Kumah (Camilla) really connects with the Shakespearean text. Unfortunately, the authenticity that is ever present in these actresses’ performances is sometimes lacking from their fellow actors and it is a pity that John Michie (Leontes) never allows his rage and anxiety to fully boil over.
Generally, setting and stage design work well. The musicians’ sound booth is itself ground-breaking, shifting the musicians on stage when normally they would be stuck in the orchestra pit or the balcony. Moreover, the booth later transforms into a witness box for the courtroom scene and the use of effective staging, lighting and music makes for a poignant finale.
Unfortunately, some of the artistic decisions become swamped in over-analysis of Shakespeare’s text. For example, why Maximillius and the bear should be so symbolically tied together in this production is a mystery, but it is both strange and confusing that he should become the bear that attacks Antigonus like some avenging fury. Moreover, if there is one detail everyone knows about The Winter’s Tale it’s the infamous stage direction, ‘Exit pursued by a bear’. Yet this production feels the need to unnecessarily sign post this fact with bear toys and bear onesies. Likewise further artistic confusion occurs regarding the geography of the play – are we in Scotland or are we in Sicilia and Bohemia?
Though this is tragi-comedy and there are some intelligent jokes and strong comic timing, the production wanders a little too close to farce and variety at times for a Shakespeare play– by the third Proclaimers joke the audience starts to grow notably weary.
However, it is the music that is the glue binding this production together and one that is a magnificent achievement by the composer, Alasdair Macrae. From the BBC-esque recording studio to the open-air ceilidh the music provides a fluid energy that helps to initiate scene transitions and complements the actors in their performances. It is a truly integral part of this play and the live performances are a treat.
It’s always intriguing to see these new interpretations of Shakespeare and particularly the radical rethinking that has gone into resituating the pastoral scenes in Bohemia in the Scots language ought to be highly commended. The Royal Lyceum production is an unusual and certainly memorable reimagining that makes for a thought-provoking evening at the theatre.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic