first night

The Winter's Tale

Rebecca Manning finds 'a sad tale's best for winter.'
The Bailey Theatre Company of John’s College is back after a long break from the stage, with their unique adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. This production was really one of college community spirit, located in Leech Hall within Johns college and with an almost entirely John’s cast.  On taking my seat, I was proudly informed by the man on my left that two of his housemates were performing in the show and that he knew the director and just about everyone else involved, personally.  The cosy atmosphere and eager audience made me a little sad I’d never ventured into Johns College much before.
Unfortunately the rest of the production left much to be desired.  The Winter’s Tale follows the story of the jealous King Leontes (Dan Jackson) who suspects his wife, Queen Hermione (Isobel Englert), of having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes (Ed Hauschild), much to the disbelief and resentment of  the court.  While Jackson captured the sense of deranged paranoia well, his hesitation and fluffed lines made his performance less believable. Special mention must be made of Mamillius (Jack Moreton) who, in playing the kings son, did a great job of executing childlike mannerisms and boyish charm.  The commanding performance of Paulina (Julia Xavier Stier), the sassy supporter of Queen Hermione was undoubtedly the best female performance of the night. The majority of the cast had a strong hold on the Shakespearean language; however the nervous pauses and missed lines of just a few cast members brought down the general tone of the production
In putting a modern spin on Shakespeare, the darker first half of the play is set in the raving 1920’s, cleverly matching the gloomy subject matter with the time frame of  Post war depression and economic ruin.  The queens and her ladies aptly marked the era in flapper dresses and headbands, while jazz music and dark lighting was used to signify the changing scenes.  The tech team did a sound job in creating a storm scene, using rain sounds and flashing light to create a lightning effect.  The second more jovial half is set after the Second World War in a period of post war elation and was marked with 40’s style dresses and propaganda posters.  Although I thought the idea behind the 20’s – 40’s time frame was clever and unique, it was poorly executed, with overly simplistic props and amateur costumes. 
The second act was fairly disjointed and although more cheerful than the first, saw the slightly too earnest union of Perdita (Lizzie Reavley) and Prince Florizel (Ed Blancke).  The poor positioning of the cast in this half meant the audience was often obscured from the main act.  The passionate performance of Autolycus (Alexander Gaya), the unscrupulous peddler and vagabond was clearly a favourite amongst the nearly all Johns’ audience.  Though I appreciated his energy and the comical element he bought to the production, his performance would have been better suited to a Christmas pantomime than a Shakespeare adaptation.    
While I commend the cast for their enthusiasm and originality, I found The Winter’s Tale in all to be novice and underwhelming. As this production was thankfully for one night only, Bailey Theatre Company, “What’s gone and what's past help should be past grief.”
Rebecca Manning

10 December 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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