LJMU Level 5 Shakespeare student, Hugh Adam, writes about the 18th November production of The Winter’s Tale.
The Winter’s Tale
Performed at the Liverpool Playhouse, the Northern Broadsides’ production of The Winter’s Tale captures all the vital emotional elements of the text (jealousy, betrayal, abandonment, acceptance, comedy, redemption), while adding a modern twist sure to please all theatre goers, not just Shakespeare enthusiasts.
Beginning in Sicily, transposed from the time of its writing to New Year’s Eve 1999, The Winter’s Tale opens with the celebrations of old friends Leontes, the King of Sicily, and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. In accordance with the play’s complexity of tone, the celebrations are bittersweet for Polixenes, who longs to return to Bohemia and his family. His eventual decision to remain in Sicily (convinced by Leontes’ wife, Hermione) gives the insecure Leontes grounds to suppose an affair between the two, leading the King of Sicily (and those around him) into a vicious, jealousy-fuelled turmoil.
The first three acts of the play are dominated by Leontes’ pathos. Excellently portrayed by Conrad Nelson, in what is also his first directorial role with the company, Leontes remains sympathetic to a point, more due to the strength of the performance rather than the actions of the King. Yet he will be pushed too far by his envy and his actions will have tragic consequences. Here again, though, when things seem plainly bleak, The Winter’s Tale will seek to complicate the emotional tone as the comedic introduction of a bear (yes, a bear) gives a small glimmer of the light to come in the seemingly unending darkness.
If the first three acts are played out under the shadow cast by Nelson’s Leontes then it is fair to say the last two bask in the glow of Mike Hugo’s performance as Autolycus. The play’s transformation into a comedic love story doesn’t centre around the roguish Autolycus but his spirit is felt throughout, as the drama of the first half of the play is replaced by the musical performances of the second. The vast majority of the cast take part in an eclectic mix of songs and dances, including an impressive guitar looping solo by Hugo. Musical director Bex Hughes’ use of contemporary music will appeal to a wider audience than just Shakespeare fans, and fits in well as the events of the play are now set sixteen years after its turn of the millennium beginning, in 2015. These musical interludes are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and help carry the play to its redemptive conclusion.
Though, redemptive as it is, The Winter’s Tale’s end continues to refuse to deliver a purity of emotion and for all the relief the characters feel in the play’s conclusion, it is not without regret of all that had to be suffered through to get there. This bittersweet taste is not, however, shared by the audience, for whom the Northern Broadside’s production of The Winter’s Tale is a superb experience from start to finish.