first night

The Winter's Tale

Izzie Price receives a mixed bag with STAB's 'The Winter's Tale'

 

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, telling the story of Leontes, King of Sicilia, and the anguish he goes through as he believes first that his wife is having an affair, and then that she is part of a plot to kill him. To stage this (nearly) three hour long show is no easy task, especially with a cast of 27 people, and for this, director Greti Bogar must be praised. He took on a monumental project, and I must say, I didn’t notice any of the typical flaws that so often accompany a first night; the cast all seemed to be word perfect, and the sound and lighting appeared to always be right on cue.

The acting was varied throughout. Rohan Perumatantri (Leontes), after a rather wooden start, managed to lift his performance so that he presented us with very convincing portrayals of anger, anguish and finally, joy in equal measure. Lara Harris’ Paulina was well pitched, conveying both the passion and dignity of her character with believability. Danielle Oliver and Beatrice Vincent both put in incredibly confident performances as Antigonus and Autolycus, respectively (although both their performances occasionally slipped into overacting). However, the stand out performance of the night by far was Zoe Coxon as Hermione (wife of Leontes). She was utterly convincing as the wronged Queen, and the scene where she attempts to defend herself against Leontes’ accusations was easily the most poignant and memorable scene of the night. Furthermore, she was the only actor who was prepared to bring “dramatic pauses” into her delivery (a cliché, but essential when performing Shakespeare), and clearly had a thorough understanding of the depth behind the complex lines she was delivering.

Unfortunately, despite these committed performances, this skill and talent was let down by the frankly flat energy of the production as a whole. My recommendation when performing Shakespeare to a student audience (especially a lesser known one such as this) would be to cut down many of the longer scenes, to avoid the show dragging and the pace dropping – unfortunately, both these circumstances happened last night. Furthermore, having a large cast can be both a good and a bad thing. It worked well in that many of the court scenes were more convincing when the stage was full of people, echoing how the court would have looked at the time of writing. The director had also done a good job of integrating silent speech into the production; while the main dialogue was happening, most of the actors did a good job of keeping up realistic silent conversations at the sides of the stage. However, having a stage full of people can be a curse, as inevitably the cast fell into standing in dreaded line formations, and I spotted many of the ensemble cast staring vaguely into space and failing to react to the dialogue happening right in front of them.

The play’s energy was not helped by the aesthetics of the production. The set consisted of a white canvas wall upstage, with barely visible bricks painted on it, and two red flags draped over it at the far right and left. In the first half, the cast were all dressed fairly similarly – the women all in white dresses with a red accessory, and the men in white shirts, black trousers and red sashes. The effect was confusing, as with so many characters, it takes a while to learn who each one is, and their relation to each other, and this task is not helped when they are all dressed the same. However, having said this, it was a clever idea to achieve a sense of contrast between the court characters, dressed in their regal red and white, and the shepherds, who appeared in the second half and were dressed in an amalgamation of wellies, flowered dresses and oversize coats.

I want to make it clear that I thought this was a polished production. It is refreshing to watch a production when you can be secure in the knowledge that each member of the cast clearly knows their lines perfectly, and when each scene is swiftly followed by the next, with no awkward gaps between scenes. I appreciated the courtly music played during each blackout – it made the scene transitions flow into each other naturally. Having achieved this practical slickness, I think the cast (the aforementioned excepted) can now afford to be a bit braver with the production, and to take a few more risks by varying their delivery and facial expression. The lines, cues and blocking are all there; all that’s needed now is a bit more energy to make it a really strong show – which, with a bit of variation, I have no doubt it will be.

9 May 2014

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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