"Impressive Interpretation of Shakespearean Classic"
by Alison Goldie for remotegoat on 25/05/18

The Tower Theatre Company is an extraordinary phenomenon – an amateur company with a long history in producing quality theatre in abundance: in 2017 alone, it presented sixteen shows. It has a strong reputation for its interpretations of Shakespeare, and The Winter’s Tale at The Bridewell Theatre continues its strand of thoughtfully directed and well-performed classic works.

The play is one of Shakespeare’s latest, from the same time as The Tempest, and combines one half tragedy and one half comedy in a surprisingly successful match. Its first three acts feature the court of Leontes, King of Sicilia (Will Forester) who has been paying host to his dear childhood friend, Polixenes, now King of Bohemia (Jonathan Wober). The pair seem to have the ultimate bromance, speaking effusively of their history and love for one another, but when Polixenes wants to go home, Leontes urges his own pregnant wife, Hermione (a luminous Gemma Parkes) to persuade Polixenes to stay. Hermione’s success makes Leontes suspicious and he decides, in the face of no evidence, that his wife and best friend have been having a long affair and that her unborn child is Polixenes’. What follows is a portrayal of jealousy that rivals that of Othello and leads to dreadful consequences, the deaths of both his queen and their heir, the child Mamillius.

Before her heart breaks and she dies, Hermione gives birth to a girl, but Leontes wants nothing to do with ‘the bastard’ and sends his trusted, and very conflicted courtier Antigonus (a moving Ian Recordon) to abandon the child in the wilderness. Antigonus takes her to Bohemia and leaves her there, with a cachet of money and precious objects for her security and a note with her name, ‘Perdita’. At this point comes Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction 'Exit Pursued by a Bear'; here the problem of representing the beast is elegantly solved.

In Acts 4 and 5 the mood of the play changes utterly. After a stylised announcement that sixteen years have passed, from the character of Time (exquisitely delivered by Penny Tuerk) we are witness to the sunshine and jollity of Bohemia, where a sheep-shearing festival is the scene of community celebration, with dancing and singing, and a little light thieving from the mischievous Autolycus (a dexterous and hilarious Richard Scarr) one of the most appealing of all of Shakespeare’s low-lifers. Here we meet the old Shepherd who found Perdita (endearingly played by Chris Holmes), his goofy son (very funny Ben Kynaston) and crucially, Polixenes’ son, Florizel (Dominic Chambers) who has made a loving match with Perdita (Emily McCormick) which is inevitably jeopardised, but ultimately helps to deliver a happy ending together with the coup de theatre of Hemione’s statue awakening.

The production uses the 1950’s and 1960’s for aesthetic tone - the costumes are gorgeous, and the minimal sets perfectly apt. The accomplished cast transcend the potential pitfalls of a long Shakespearean drama and keep us rivetted with real emotional depth, as well as delicious comic business. Leontes’ jealousy is so extreme and so dark, it chimes with contemporary true stories of obsessive, cruel and misogynistic men. His repentance, over 16 years of regret, reveals the personal cost of this behaviour. Emmeline Winterbotham directs with pace, creativity and many lovely distinctive details that make this Winter’s Tale both absorbing and entertaining.

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