Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Winter's Tale - The Minerva Theatre, Chichester

The Winter’s Tale
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Simon Godwin
Reviewer:Steve Turner

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale has been known as one of his ‘problem plays’ as it does not fall easily into either the tragedy or comedy genre. It has also been labeled a dark comedy and perhaps this gets closer to the heart of the work. The first half of this adaptation, acts 1 and 2 of the original work, is most definitely dark, tragic and full of rage, whilst the second half, acts 3 to 5, begin with a much more light hearted comic tone and continue with this theme until the ultimately uplifting finale.

The lighting and simple coloured backdrop convey the mood of the piece in an understated and subtle way, which together with the simple terracotta style flooring and minimal set dressing allow us to focus on the dialogue which is wonderfully delivered by the whole cast. In the intimate surroundings of the Minerva Theatre the cast draw us in with their asides and their direct speech to the audience, and with the seating on three sides of the stage the effect is to bring us closer to the action. At first it seems a little strange to hear someone in evening dress speaking the language of Shakespeare but the natural way that the cast deal with the archaic phrases soon makes it seem quite normal to speak in this way.

Simon Godwin’s direction of The Winter’s Tale sets the play in 1930s Italy, and from the outset we are aware of the decadent carefree lives that Polixenes (James Buller) and Hermione (Amanda Ryan) live as the lounge around sipping champagne whilst Leontes (Vince Leigh) tries in vain to persuade his good friend Polixenes to remain with them for another week. Only when his wife Hermione changes Polixenes mind does Leontes begin to suspect that his wife is being unfaithful to him.

Vince Leigh is impressive as Leontes, a role that requires him to be sympathetic and caring and yet capable of foul rage and extreme temper as to strike fear into his friends and foes alike. His ability to suddenly erupt in a fury and just as suddenly subside into self pity was marvelously conveyed.

Golda Rosheuvel puts in an impressive performance as Paulina notably in the scene where she confronts Leontes with his newborn daughter, matching his rage and fury and evoking the sympathy of the audience for the plight of her mistress.

John Hodgkinson in the tragic role of Antigonus and the comic role of Autolycus encapsulates the essence of the play, the former role earnest, loyal and ultimately tragic (his demise is accompanied by Shakespeare’s famed stage direction ‘exit left pursued by a bear’), the latter role light and comic and very much playing to the audience.

The creative team and cast involved in this production make The Winter’s Tale look nothing like a ‘problem’ play bringing us a wonderful evening of emotional highs and lows that hold the attention from beginning to end.

Runs until Sat 7th Nov
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