The Winter’s Tale at the Lion and Unicorn
The Winter’s Tale is not the most remembered of works in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. The words of its characters have not lodged themselves as firmly into the English language as, say, Hamlet’s or Othello’s. And while the Bard’s plays often deal with both tragedy and comedy in one sitting, The Winter’s Tale presents perhaps his biggest theatrical 180, with the first three acts dominated by tragedy and gloom, and the last two acts suddenly comedic.
Whether or not the play’s structure is to your liking, it’s impossible not to connect with the timeless themes it presents, and to recognise in its story something everlastingly relevant and human. Timelessness was perhaps the governing principle for director Ross McGregor when he created his adaptation. While the original play is vague on the matter of time setting, McGregor goes a step further by cloaking his characters in a striking steampunk wardrobe, including lace-up corsets, top hats, button-down military wear, the occasional balaclava and aviation goggles – not to mention staging his play aboard what appears to be an abstract interpretation of a floating airship.
On first clocking the airship, you’d be forgiven for fearing that this piece of fringe theatre might be a little too zany to be enjoyable. But somehow it works, grounded in solid performances from a cast that is full of talent, their palpable energy bursting out from the small stage and reaching into the audience.
Christpher Neels as the madly jealous King Leontes manages the transition from pacing maniac to repentant old man very competently, while Elizabeth Appleby as his wrongly-accused wife Hermione brings to her role a quiet, captivating womanly strength. Although her role is not enormous, Hannah Ellis is the sort of actress you cannot take your eyes off: as no-nonsense Paulina, friend of Hermione, she is controlled and commanding.
The lighting here is worth noting for its ability to alter the mood – from blue-grey eeriness during the tragedy to glowing, golden and joyful during the pastoral scenes. The use of music is a little inconsistent; the folk song In the Pines is a powerful dirge at the end of the third act, while some of the more upbeat choices, including 2011 R&B track Dedication to my Ex, felt jarringly off-mark. Overall, though, a lively production with a passionate cast.
The Winter’s Tale is on at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 3rd January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.