Brusque gales rattled around the rafters of the Liverpool Playhouse on the opening night of The Winter’s Tale giving sympathetic off-stage noises to the start of this tragic-comedy.
This vibrant production by the multi-talented actors/musicians of Northern Broadsides with Harrogate Theatre, is unpretentious, using their own charismatic warm northern voices.
The play, by William Shakespeare, opens on the last eve of 1999, as modernly dressed revellers in the court King Leontes of Sicilia look forward to the new millennium. But their anticipation is soon wrought by the unreasoned jealousy of the king for his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione, over her friendship of his life-long friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia.
From then on the winter becomes darker as tragedy is heaped on tragedy. Leontes psychological ranting over his supposed wife’s adultery makes for a bleak first half.
The second half is like another play as the warmth of spring 16 years on, in easy-going Bohemia, brings us neatly to 2015. Here the story advances in more positive, upbeat manner. We discover Leontes’ abandoned daughter Perdita, brought up by a shepherd, is a beautiful teenager being wooed by Florizel, the prince of Bohemia.
The set is a stark backdrop of high white doors onto which are portrayed projections of blustery clouds and in the well-known exeunt of Antigonus, a roaring bear.
There is much humour in this production beautifully directed by Conrad Nelson who also plays a robust Leontes. The well -known knock-about fun of Northern Broadsides and their superb musicality is exploited to the full after the interval, giving light relief to such a serious first half.
Mike Hugo as Autolycus is a superb clown, at one point taking off Bob Dylan in a guitar/mouth organ rendition of a Shakespeare ditty. In fact the whole cast engage in a rumbustious folksy seventeeth-century hippy hoe-down. Scally shepherdesses Jessica Dyas and Lauryn Redding are wonderful as scruffy fighting females, all well choreographed by Bev Edwards.
Jack Lord is a fine Polixenes and Andy Cryer an excellent Camillo. Hannah Barrie gives a sympathetic performance as the wronged Hermoine and Liverpool-based Ruth Alexander-Rubin a strong Paulina. As a veteran of three Everyman pantos and Liverpool Shakespeare Festival she is well known to local audiences.
Time is the constant element throughout this play and in time there is redemption for actions of a jealous king. In this production of The Winter’sTale we see a story that culminates in forgiveness, love and happiness from a troupe that gives full reign to this beguiling play.
The Winter’s Tale
By William Shakespeare
Purple Revolver Rating: **** A play of two halves
Northern Broadsides with Harrogate Theatre
Director: Conrad Nelson
Designer: Dawn Alsop
Lighting: Director Mark Howland
Assistant: Musical Director Rebecca Hughes
Choreographer: Bev Edwards.