Theatre Review: A Winter’s Tale, Festival Theatre

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A WINTER’S Tale remains a strangely seasonal notion on this chill April night.

A Winter’s Tale

Festival Theatre * *

Where the original moved between Sicily and Eastern Europe, here we are in an abstracted, metaphorical England. It is the 1860s, and Sicilia and Bohemia represent two sides of the same coin; rich and poor, top and bottom, north and south.

We start in Sicilia, with a paranoia-driven aristocratic fankle whereby King Leontes wrongly becomes convinced that his wife is having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. Several typically Shakespearian tragic consequences ensue: death, exile and guilt-wracked grief. There follows a gear shift to a mix of bawdy comedy and an idealised celebration of “simpler” folk after the interval that can make A Winter’s Tale one of the Bard’s more uneven works at the best of times.

And this is not the best of times. Granted, it doesn’t do to stand still, and original texts need not be slavishly adhered to. The dropping of the original stage direction, “exit, pursued by a bear,” for instance, is arguably a good thing. However, the point is that the showy set and contrived setting diminish opportunities to engage with the story and, worse, chunks of it just don’t make sense in the “updated” setting. There’s a point up to which you can scratch your chin and go “ah, metaphor” but, when the internal consistency goes off, you find yourself instead just going “eh?”

Nearing the end of the tour, it may be failing voices that render the production acoustically troublesome; some lines are hard to catch higher up in the theatre, particularly when the (generally excellent) music fades in or out, others verge on shouted rather than projected. That’s probably the only criticism of a cast which is the best reason to go and see this Winter’s Tale, from Tara Fitzgerald’s brief, starry turn to the amusing shepherds and maids and Pearce Quigley as Autolycus.

A Winter’s Tale is not one of Shakespeare’s easiest. This production doesn’t help with that and is needlessly long. Nothing here to stop you longing for summer, unfortunately.

• Run ends Saturday.