Pros: A passionate, unique and highly entertaining adaptation of a classic play.
Cons: Traditional Shakespearean costumes will seems a little dull after watching this…
Set against a visually striking Steampunk backdrop, the Shakespeare Sessions creatively re-imagine The Winter’s Tale. The story follows King Leontes’s dramatic transformation from jealous tyrant to humble penitent, and the impact of his actions on the web of characters surrounding him.
The production is built around a very strong cast who each play their characters with immense energy and emotion. Particularly striking is Christopher Neels’ performance as Leontes. During the first act, Neels’ commitment to the role makes the character’s tyrannical behaviour physically uncomfortable to watch. However, Neels also manages to retain a small shred of empathy for the king’s delusion, which he builds into a fully transformed version of Leontes during act two. Equally impressive were Elizabeth Appleby as Hermione and Hannah Ellis as Paulina. Appleby delivers an incredibly emotive portrayal of the persecuted queen, without ever appearing overly theatrical. Ellis too, has a subtle manner in her performance as Paulina. The character only raises her voice once or twice throughout the play but her expression, tone and physical stance, speak volumes.
The script is of course mostly Shakespeare’s but I felt that director Ross McGregor’s adaptation was very much a fresh take on the classic dialogue. Imaginative physical direction gives the script a new twist, for example during moments like the pickpocketing scene between ‘Clown’ (Nic McQuillan) and Autolycus (Robert Myles), in which Autolycus’ arm ends up contorted around his head, whilst still gesturing along with his speech. Moments like this could easily be played ‘strait’ but McGregor’s creativity brings a new dimension to the lines, which I found extremely engaging.
Similarly, the use of contemporary musical numbers really enhanced the emotion around different scenes, again keeping the audience fully invested in the action. There is a stark contrast between the dark, climactic tone of act one and the lighter, humorous nature of act two, both of which are reflected in the music. Myles and McQuillan, along with David Robert Olley, deliver a great deal of the comic relief during the second half of the play and their physical humour and timing is absolutely spot-on. They had the audience in stitches at several points and were a welcome break from the more serious narrative surrounding them.
Perhaps the most obvious departure from traditional Shakespeare is this production’s use of the Steampunk style. The set looks like the inside of a ship or perhaps a futuristic zeppelin, whilst the costumes combine elaborate ‘wild west’ dress with military uniforms, mechanical accessories and metallic goggles. The overall impression is beautifully eclectic and is supported by extremely slick lighting and sound. At times, hand-held lights are even operated from within the scene, adding a creative touch to an otherwise traditional dialogue. I felt that the unusual visuals were a brave move with such a complex play, as the combination could easily have been overwhelming. However on this occasion it was executed perfectly and the departure from any realistic historical period actually helped to focus my attention, on the action taking place.
The Winter’s Tale is a powerful story, delivered with a great deal of passion from the cast. It’s rare that a play can be both haunting and hilarious but this one pulls it off beautifully. The visuals, music and performance come together to create something quite brilliant. This is everything you want from Shakespeare, in a way you’ve never seen before.
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Ross McGregor
Producer: Simon James Collier
Booking Until: Saturday 3rd January 2015
Box Office: 08444 771 000
Booking Link: http://www.lionandunicorntheatre.com/thewinterstale.php