Thursday, April 05, 2012

'The Winter's Tale' by William Shakespeare

5 April 2012

The thing most people know about ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is that it’s the Shakespeare play that contains the infamous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear”. Last week we were at the splendid new Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury to see the Propeller production of the play, directed by Edward Hall. From the opening scene, when the infant prince enters in his pyjamas clutching a teddy bear, and the moment a little later when we see him draped in a bearskin rug, you can tell this is going to be a playful production, toying with our expectations. I really enjoyed Propeller’s ‘Henry V’ (reviewed here in December 2011) and ‘The Winter’s Tale’, which the company is touring with ‘Henry V’ and features the same cast, was even better. It’s very much a play of two halves and the contrast between the grim seriousness of the scenes in Sicilia in the first act and the comic slapstick of the rural scenes in Bohemia after the interval was emphasised in this production by the set, lighting and costumes. This contrast between the scenes at court and the pastoral setting reminded me of ‘As You Like It’. Propeller really take these two worlds to extremes: we feel the angst and pain driven by the jealousy of Leontes in the first half of the play but suddenly, in Bohemia, the sun is out and the mood is transformed by singing sheep (‘The Bleatles’), beatboxing shepherds and a wonderful pickpocketing scene (by Tony Bell as Autolycus). All the cast are strong but there was a particularly fine comic performance by Karl Davies as the Young Shepherd. It was a fantastic production.

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