Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” (Propeller)
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
4th May 2012
Propeller’s re-visitation of their 2005 production of Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”, currently touring in rep with the company’s “Henry V” was a sterling and true interpretation of the genre tragicomedy.
Although lacking in some areas, the ensemble cast effectively polarised the sterile court and the vital and virile Bohemia environments that straddle the interval and the conventional “turning point” of the play. By heightening the differences between the two states to extremes – the beginning of Act IV begins with some bizarre 1960s sheep-singing that had the audience in hysterics – Propeller successfully live up to Shakespeare’s “little joke” about the then-emerging theatrical genre of the early 17th century. Everything about the “tragedy” and the”comedy” is pushed to the limit; this was particularly evident in Robert Hands’s Leontes, a truly solid Polixenes from Nicholas Asbury and in Michael Pavelka’s versatile design. The music, attributed to the company in the programme, also encouraged this contrast.
As a new-comer to Propeller shows, the most striking aspect of the production was always going to be the all-male cast. I have to say, however true to Shakespearean tradition, I was disappointed certainly in the portrayals of the older women who teetered on the edge of pantomime. Perhaps victims of the tongue-in-cheek elements of the text, Hermione (Richard Dempsey) and Paulina (Vince Leigh) lacked complete emotional truth, but rather became sterling comic performances. Whether this is a fault or an intention of the production, I’m unsure, but the audience still come away thinking that Hermione was over-dramatic and that Paulina was foolish to hide Hermione’s “statue” away. Instead, the resounding pax between the two Dukes and their humility is what we take away.
Before passing any more judgement on the company’s choice to remain an all-male ensemble, evidently I will have to see more of their productions; nonetheless “A Winter’s Tale” was true to its Shakespearean origins whilst still engaging a modern audience and must therefore be commended; I look forward to seeing more of their work.