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A Tale to remember.

REVIEW PRODUCTION: Northern Broadsides, The Winter's Tale VENUE: Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield REVIEWER: William Marshall RATING:. ...

THE Winter's Tale is not the most easily categorisable of Shakespeare's plays. A tragi-comedy with a happy ending - and a bizarre, magical ending at that - is one possibility. What is more certain is that Northern Broadsides have devised a superb production of this strange play.

Directed by Conrad Nelson - who also plays King Leontes and composed the highly-varied music - this is a modern dress production (well, turn of the 21st century modern at any rate; it begins as the clock strikes midnight at the start of the new Millennium) but it is not tiresomely high concept. The story is allowed to breathe and proceeds on its weird way with real narrative momentum.

Nelson himself has the acting challenge of making sense of the main plot device when Leontes, King of Sicily, abruptly and for no obvious reason is transformed from a benign ruler and contented family man into a cruel tyrant convinced that his wife Hermione has been cheating on him. This crashing gear change in the personality of the king is successfully negotiated, leading to the death of his son and heir, the abandonment of his daughter and the (apparent) demise of his wife.

The action shifts to Bohemia and a family of shepherds, who bring up the foundling royal baby as their own. We are also introduced to the scapegrace Autolycus, one of the few genuinely amusing comedy characters in Shakespeare. Mike Hugo gives a virtuosic little performance in this role, adopting a Liam Gallagheresque Mancunian accent and garb, but also throwing in a spot of Bob Dylan during a very funny busking sequence - one of the occasions when several cast members display their musical skills (later on we even get a Riverdance sequence).

The significance of clothing, to denote social status, is a vital element in The Winter's Tale, and this production brings this out very well.

The company's founding philosophy is that the actors speak in their natural northern voices. It is astonishing how well this works, lending gravity and authenticity. It is certainly a revelation to many that Shakespeare does not have to be done in stage school RP, which anyway is a Johnny-come-lately among English accents. You wouldn't have heard it back in the Bard's day. The Winter's Tale has the famous "Exit, pursued by a bear" stage direction. Northern Broadsides make judicious use of back projection to accomplish this difficult feat.

As if the bear was not enough, the play also requires an extraordinary transformation scene at its conclusion, as a repentant Leontes contemplates a lifelike statue of Hermione. It is a preposterous device but very moving (in all senses of the word) when done well, and this production does it brilliantly, to the accompaniment of some highly affecting choral music.

How Hannah Barrie, as Hermione, manages to remain utterly immobile for so long is a mystery of stagecraft.

But there are many really good things about this production, which is at the LBT until Saturday.

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The Winter's Tale by Northern Broadsides at the |Lawrence Batley Theatre this autumn

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Title Annotation:Features; Review
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Oct 15, 2015
Words:524
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