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The Winter’s Tale isn’t one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, but it has been one of the ones I have seen the most performances of in lockdown.
Maybe this is because it’s a wonderful play with a lot of interesting themes which are relevant to today. The separation from some family members is something which I’m sure we have all experienced and a lot of people can identify with Leontes’ mental health problems too. Not his exact situation, but he believes something so strongly, he can’t accept that something else might be true and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. The Winter’s Tale (I hope this is not a spoiler) also brings hope that we might get a happy ending too, but it’s not a completely happy ending. Some things can’t go back to the way they were and that is something that is relevant for us too.
I am very happy to see it again and I was very excited when I found out it would be Shake-Scene’s next production and it is especially nice to watch a play with winter in the title when there is snow outside!
I don’t think Shake-Scene could ever do a bad production, but this is one of their very best. The only rehearsal they did was passing props (which worked very well), but all the actors play their roles brilliantly and there are some really lovely onstage connections. Of course, most of the actors have worked together too so they know each other and trust each other and I’m sure that helps, but it is still miraculous. Lizzie Hughes keeps everything under control as usual and does brilliantly when she has to stand in for another cast member and perform quite a long and emotional scene.
Matt Williams was brilliant as Macbeth in the last Shake-Scene play we watched and he returns in The Winter’s Tale as another King, Leontes. Mr Williams brought out Leontes’ suffering really powerfully. He gets it terribly wrong with Hermione and his anger is quite frightening and a lot of the things he does are very wrong, but his emotional anguish is beautifully performed by Mr Williams and there’s no doubt he believes every word he is saying.
Elizabeth Huxley’s Hermione starts off as being very self-confident and she has a dignity that shows she is the Queen, but she’s also really warm, friendly and encouraging. Then Leontes makes his terrible accusations and poor Hermione is slowly worn down by them. The happiness is crushed out of her and in her trial she becomes hard and angry, which is unusual for Hermione but it works so well. It is really sad to see how she is changed as a result of what happens to her, but there’s something awe-inspiring about Hermione in this scene – and in all her scenes.
Jill Greenacre plays Paulina and she is excellent too. There is something about Paulina that is very controlled and impressive, the sort of person you want to listen to. But Ms Greenacre also shows that Paulina is a human being who really cares about Hermione and she is really shocked and saddened by the way she is being treated by Leontes. I think it’s really important to see the human side of Paulina because there are points in the play where she doesn’t seem quite human (but in a good way).
Aryn Mello Pryor and Eleanor Shannon (who also appear in other roles earlier in the play) are a really lovely couple as Florizel and Perdita. They seem like such nice people and I like the way Florizel seems a little bit shy of Perdita, even though he has no idea she’s really a princess. Perdita is really charming and Ms Shannon expresses Perdita’s feelings so well as she keeps discovering more and more incredible things about herself.
Polixenes is played by Angela Bull (it just says Angela on her Zoom screen, but Angela Bull played the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost and I think it’s the same actor) and she makes him into a really kind and warm character. Eugenia Low is always brilliant and I love the way her Camillo is always reacting emotionally to everything that happens.
It is mostly a serious play, but Dewi Hughes gives the play lots of humour in the role of Autolycus. He does bad things, but he is so cheeky and cheerful, he seems more like a naughty boy than a hardened criminal and it’s impossible not to like him. I really enjoyed Mr Hughes’ singing. Geraldine Brennan and Fergus Rattigan also bring lots of lightness to the play as the Shepherds. They’re great characters.
I enjoyed this production very much and I’m really looking forward to Shake-Scene’s other productions. I think the next one we’re watching is A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I am so excited.