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Theatre reviews: The Winter’s Tale at Hampstead Theatre

15:07 11 July 2012

Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale

Manuel Harlan, Manuel Harlan

Propeller’s all-male production of the late Shakespeare play presents world with exceptional clarity

»The Winter’s Tale – like Shakespeare’s other late “romances” – can be a puzzling mix of tragedy and comedy. The Propeller company’s praiseworthy production removes any confusion by presenting with exceptional clarity a world in which tragic and comic elements so easily intertwine.

A talented cast – with strong performances by Robert Hands as Sicilia’s King Leontes and Chris Myles as Camillo – removes any doubt about the lack of motive for the king’s unreasonable jealousy and anger early in the play, and shows how Leontes himself becomes the victim of his own diseased mind, and the false accusations of adultery against the blameless queen Hermione and his long-time friend Piloxenes, King of Bohemia, that it provokes.

The corrupting power of Leontes’ jealous fantasy – and the death of Hermione and their son Mamillius at the end of the first half – is set against a fantastical tale of redemption in the final acts that keeps reminding the audience of the story’s unreality.

The dreamlike sequences in this all-male production are enhanced by the unusual device (less so in Shakespeare’s day) of casting men in the women’s parts. Richard Dempsey is outstanding as the noble “audacious lady” and “good queen” Hermione, and as Dorcas, the village sexpot.

After a break of 16 years, the location shifts to rural Bohemia, where the locals are enjoying a kind of Bohemian Glastonbury festival, with members of the cast – dressed as sheep during the sheep shearing scene – transformed into a rock band, The Bleatles.

The minstrel and thief Autolycus, brilliantly played by Tony Bell, emerges from a tent wearing eye liner and leather trousers, bare-chested and sweating, strutting across the stage, winking at the audience and turning every line into ribald banter sung to the accompaniment of the band – a Shakespearean Iggy Pop who had the audience in stitches.

The actors’ musicianship was another delight – particularly the piano playing of Gunnar Cauthery and the last poignant chords which accompany the final scenes. Four stars.

* Propeller’s production of The Winter’s Tale is at the Hampstead Theatre in Eton Avenue, NW3, until July 21. Call 020 7722 9301 or visit www.hampsteadtheatre.com for tickets.

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