Sunday, 1 August 2021

REVIEW: William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for the SHAKE Festival

The Winter’s Tale is one of William Shakespeare’s later plays written in 1610 and so now his words are over 410 years old, yet they still create a mystical magical world in which love and faith are tested. Kenneth Branagh’s excellent stage version in which he played Leontes opposite Dame Judi Dench’s Paulina and Jessie Buckley’s Perdita was captured and realised in cinemas in 2019. In October 2020 Rob Myles’s version was streamed online as one of the “Show Must Go On” productions of the complete works of Shakespeare. When the SHAKE Festival announced a rehearsed reading of the play it was planned to be done from a theatre but was switched to a zoom stream via youtube. The result is a well-executed & well-spoken reading from the homes of the cast without gimmicks (aside from some silly woollen beards) but it fails to capture the magical world without staging. The technique works well if you are studying the text as you can follow it easily in the script as they present the show and focuses the viewer on the words but can’t replicate a live theatrical or cinematic capture.

Director Jenny Hall introduced the piece and acted as scene setter with the help of some simple period music by Finn Collinson on flute and Oliver Wass on harp but decided to request performers worked in front of largely plain white walls and without props. The audio is very clear and easy to follow, the video is generally good although Mark Quartley’s Leontes image was a little fuzzy and Oliver Cotton as the Shepherd was using a digital background which caused distracting artefacts.

Quartley has the largest number of lines and greatest range of emotions and conveys well the troubled anger and despair verging on madness in the early scenes and transformation into calmer remorseful reconciliation of the final scenes.

Rob Myles himself makes an appearance as the King of Bohemia, Polixenes and his experience from producing and directing the Show Must go on versions is clear in a rendition of the catalyst of the story accused of infidelity with Leontes wife, a wonderfully angelic Hermione (Charlotte Hamblin) and then later trying to block the marriage of Perdita (Maia Jemmett) with Florizel (Barnaby Taylor).

Wendy Morgan is an excellent strong presence as Paulina, who denounces Leontes and protects Hermione and adds emotion and strength to the words with her dark blue eyes engaging the digital viewers. Tim Fitzhigham is the rascally charmer, Autolycus, Michael Mears is a noble Antigonus, husband to Paulina and Leo Winger is the defiant elegant honourable Camilo. Pamela Miles opens Act 2 as Time/Chorus and signals the passing of sixteen years.

During the interval, a short talk by Richard O’Brien, lecturer in Creative Writing at Northumbria University and 2018-20 Birmingham Poet Laureate, reflected on the nature of the play in an academic essay which would provoke thought in any student studying the play. 

The resulting three-hour stream is like watching an audiobook where the video adds little to the telling of the story. It's not enough to engage a viewer unless they are studying the text or a very dedicated Shakespeare lover. For me, the theatricality of the play is the thing that enthrals and with this media, that aspect is lost despite some very good renditions of the ancient words.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £12

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