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The Winter’s Tale, Bridewell Theatre – Review

Pros: A pleasant, well-appointed venue and the opportunity to see an infrequently performed
Shakespeare play.

Cons: The scenic backdrop relied on styling from the 1950s and 1960s, and didn’t sit particularly well with the tone of the play.

Pros: A pleasant, well-appointed venue and the opportunity to see an infrequently performed Shakespeare play. Cons: The scenic backdrop relied on styling from the 1950s and 1960s, and didn't sit particularly well with the tone of the play. This particular visit to the theatre represented two firsts for me. It was my first visit to the Bridewell Theatre in the City of London. Although signposting announced the theatre's location in Ludgate Circus, it was a struggle to find it as I weaved through a throng of happy drinkers enjoying the evening sunshine. I eventually found it nestling in Bride Lane, a discreet side alley…

Summary

Rating

Good

A solid production serves as a useful introduction to one of the Bard's lesser known plays.

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This particular visit to the theatre represented two firsts for me. It was my first visit to the Bridewell Theatre in the City of London. Although signposting announced the theatre’s location in Ludgate Circus, it was a struggle to find it as I weaved through a throng of happy drinkers enjoying the evening sunshine. I eventually found it nestling in Bride Lane, a discreet side alley just at the top end of Fleet Street. Like so many fringe theatres, it has an unassuming  facade and looks more like a library from the outside (it was actually a swimming pool in a previous life). However, descending a short flight of steps reveals a cosy bar and deceptively spacious theatre. The second first for me was The Winter’s Tale; one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works. According to online sources it is the 19th most performed play out of a total of 37 works attributed to the Bard. It is also one of the longest, at around three hours, but in this production was handily cut by 20 minutes to accommodate the interval.

The play tells of two childhood friends; Leontes, King of Sicilia and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. Polixenes is visiting the kingdom of Sicilia, but longs to return to his own kingdom and see his son. Leontes attempts to get Polixenes to stay longer without success, so instead sends his wife, Queen Hermione to persuade him. She is ultimately successful, leading Leontes to wonders how Hermione convinced Polixenes so easily. Eventually he goes insane suspecting his pregnant wife has been having an affair with Polixenes, and orders Camillo, a Sicilian Lord, to poison Polixenes. Camillo instead warns Polixenes and they both flee to Bohemia. So begins a tale of suspicion and political intrigue as Leontes seeks the truth.

For a cast comprised of amateur players they did a sterling job; but for some wobbly scene shifting it was a  production of which the Tower Theatre Company should feel proud. They didn’t pick the easiest or best known of Shakespeare plays, so couldn’t fall back on memorable scenes or lines to carry them through. The pressure was on the cast to deliver a performance, and they didn’t disappoint. Their ranks are drawn from a variety of backgrounds; on this occasion we had a PR specialist, writer, health professional and TV producer doing their turn. Will Forester was particularly commanding as Leontes, while Emily McCormick was charming in the dual roles of Mamillius and Perdita.

The styling did however go slightly awry; Acts 1 to 3 were set in the early 1950 and gave the production a pseudo Agatha Christie feel. Party guests did the conga at one point and I had the feeling a character was about to be murdered. Conversely, Acts 4 to 5 were set in the 1960s and gave off a distinctly hippy vibe. Whilst all good theatre dares to be different, this seemed at odds with the general tenor of the story. Having said that, it remains a solid piece of theatre, delivered with clarity and sureness of touch.

Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Emmeline Winterbotham
Music Director: Vahan Salorian
Choreography: Rachel Berg and Ruth Sullivan
Producers: Tower Theatre Company and St Bride Foundation
Box Office: 020 7353 1700
Booking Link: http://www.towertheatre.org.uk/boxo.htm
Booking Until: 26 May 2018

About Brian Penn

Brian Penn
Civil Servant. Brian flirted with drama at school but artistic differences forced a painful separation. At least he knows what his motivation is. Now occupying a safe position in the audience he enjoys all kinds of theatre. He was bitten by the theatrical bug after watching a production of Tommy in his teens. Other passions include films, TV and classic rhythm and blues. He also finds time for quizzes, football and squash. A keen sports fan, his enthusiasm crashes to a halt whenever anyone mentions golf. A musical based on the life of Tiger Woods could be his greatest challenge.