Home » Reviews » Propeller: The Winter’s Tale, Hampstead Theatre

Propeller: The Winter’s Tale, Hampstead Theatre

William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall

Pros: Energetic production, executed with surgical precision by a talented all-male cast.

Cons: The plot is fairly convoluted, and involves an unresolved resuscitation. Could be a little shorter.

Our Verdict: A standout production which deserves to be watched and enjoyed.

Courtesy of Manuel Harlan for Exeunt Magazine

The Winter’s Tale was written towards the end of Shakespeare’s career. With a tragic, heartbreaking first half, and a light-hearted, pastoral and comedic second half, it is sometimes categorised as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’, which don’t really fall into one category or another. It is a brave choice for Propeller, an all-male theatre company, who are staging it alongside Henry V at the Hampstead Theatre. Ultimately however, it pays off. The result is an incredibly well-choreographed, intelligent and energetic production, which keeps the audience entertained from start to finish – whether it be through tears of sadness, laughter or joy.

The plot of The Winter’s Tale is not as straightforward as some of Shakespeare’s other plays. In fact, before attending this production I’d recommend reading a quick synopsis. Not that the production is difficult to follow or understand – quite the opposite, it is one of the best delivered Elizabethan productions I have seen recently – but having an idea of the main plot lines allows one to truly enjoy the delivery of the production without having to concentrate too hard on figuring out what the hell is going on! In short: first half – The King of Sicilia becomes paranoid that his best friend (the King of Bohemia) and his wife are having an affair, and wrecks himself through jealousy. His son dies, his wife dies, his friends flee, and his newborn daughter is abandoned in Bohemia, and adopted by local shepherds. Pretty heart-wrenching stuff. 16-year time lapse. Second half – the abandoned daughter happens to fall in love with the son of the King of Bohemia, and they flee back to Sicilia. Eventually they all figure out she is the daughter of the King of Sicilia, and all is well. Somewhere along the line, the dead wife comes back to life – by magic or by concealment, nobody really knows.

The convoluted plot makes this play a challenge to perform, especially for an all-male company of actors (even though that is the way it would have been performed in Shakespeare’s time). However, this challenge is taken on with gusto by Propeller. The timing, delivery and choreography of this piece is unlike anything you will have seen recently. The Shakespearean verses sound more like modern-day English than the evening news does, and every detail of the production is executed with surgical precision. Set in a vaguely 70s time frame, the production team have flung this play into the 20th century. I won’t ruin too many surprises, but expect to see a chorus of sheep perform alongside a live band called The Bleatles in the pastoral scenes.

The bold creative decisions detailed above wouldn’t work unless performed by a highly skilled cast. And this is indeed what the audience are treated to. Performances are top-notch all round, with a special mention going to Ben Allen, who plays not only the King of Sicilia’s young son, Mamilius, but also – after a 16 year lapse – his teenage daughter Perdita. Tremendous skill is required to pull of both these parts, and Allen fits the bill perfectly. Another standout performance goes to Tony Bell, as the scheming peddler Autolycus, who gives a rendition more akin to Mick Jagger than anything else. He is glorious in his seediness, and will have you in stitches. Hats off to this tremendous and talented cast.

All in all, this is a version of The Winter’s Tale which you really ought not to miss. It has everything going for it, and is great viewing. Perhaps the play could have been a bit shorter (it runs at 2hrs 50 mins), but ultimately there are no parts where it drags on, and it’s enjoyable at all stages – whether in the tragic misery of its first half, or the upbeat humour of its second half. This show isn’t running for long at the Hampstead Theatre, so book your tickets now!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

The Winter’s Tale runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 21st July 2012.
Box Office: 020 7722 9301 or book online at http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2012/propeller-the-winter-s-tale

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