James Buller, Matthew Douglas, Bryony Hannah, John Hodgkinson, Gwynfor Jones, Ferdinand Kingsley, Vince Leigh, Golda Rosheuvel, Amanda Ryan
Headlong Theatre makes exhilarating, provocative and spectacular new work to take around the country and around the world.
Bristol marks the endpoint for their touring production of Simon Godwin’s staging of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the first collaboration between Headlong and the London-based producing engine Schtanhaus; it is also co-produced by the Nuffield theatre in Southampton where the tour began in September
Though admirably inventive, there were confusing aspects to Godwin’s production, particularly in regards to setting – a lack of clarity in terms of time and place.
Visually, though Miriam Nabarro’s design was rather elegant, it failed to convey the inteneded sense of 1930s Italy. This, combined with lighting which left the actors semi-bathed in darkness, made for a somewhat frustrating experience.
The excellent ensemble cast, however, redeem things considerably, doing justice to the scale of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Particularly vivid are the multiple eruptions of Leontes, here played by Vince Leigh, as he is consumed by his jealousy and suspicion of his wife Hermione (Amanda Ryan), and her waiting lady Paulina (Golda Rosheuvel) who both put in a sterling performances of their own.
Godwin’s direction, combined with these strong performances, dragged the audience on a real journey, a roller coaster of emotions. But, at times, the sheer speed of delivery became problematic and it was occasionally almost impossible to hear individual words let alone keep up with the text, a real hurdle for those unfamiliar with The Winter’s Tale.
In the Second Act, the action moves from Sicilia to Bohemia, and the resulting shift in design was very pleasing, the gloom of earlier scenes banished. The sense of happiness and freedom in these scenes was tangible. Goodwin’s use of performers in multiple roles also works to great effect and this second section is a more playful affair altogther, aided by some quick-witted delivery and comic excessiveness on the part of the cast. A particular highlight of the evening was John Hodgkinson as Autolycus, as he conned those around him out of their money and possessions, he had the audience braying with laughter.
This is a good, solid production, a real treat for those familiar with the play, but unfortunately not one I feel would offer much to new audiences. Enjoyable as it was, it lacked that essential something that makes a production likely to linger long in the memory.