Review: Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale

What country friends is this? Photo: Manual Harlan

For the current season Propeller have created a pretty much pitch perfect Henry V but on this evidence it seems The Winter’s Tale is one play which Hall’s all-male company cannot conquer.

Perhaps more so than any of his plays, Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy explores the relationship between men and women and, more poetically, between the masculine and the feminine; Hall’s production doesn’t quite pull off this delicate process. Within the world of the play the importance of female endurance and faithfulness is highlighted and the idea of redemption is examined. This potent feminine strength is personified not only in Hermione’s dignified exile but in Paulina’s constant vocal protest. Redemption comes in the balanced equality of Perdita and Florizel’s love where no one holds the upper hand.

Propeller’s production fails to fully illuminate this aspect of the text. While their Henry V was as complex and layered as it was full-blooded, this is one play where the all-male company struggle to convey Shakespeare’s emotional intricacies. In this case their maleness counts against them – and although Richard Dempsey and Vince Leigh give solid performances as Hermione and Paulina respectively, theirs is not a feminine strength we see put to the test.

As played by a man, Paulina’s behaviour towards Robert Hands’ emotionally raw Leontes is slightly diminished in its remarkableness as well as in its role in re-establishing the balance of male and female power. At the end, the equality struck between Ben Allen’s Perdita and Finn Hanlon’s Florizel feels normal and not progressive.

With this dynamic removed, Hall’s Winter’s Tale is a rather disjointed production, a play of two parts and a long one at that. The company’s skill at producing high quality work remains however, and the performances are as textured and detailed as they were in Henry V.

The production comes into its own during an explosive second act, full of rock and roll bravado and backing-singer sheep. This adds necessary energy to what is always a rather blunt shift from the power plays of Leontes’ court to the bawdy flirtations of pastoral Bohemia.

Michael Pavelka’s metallic set, which is constantly shifting with the warped reflections of movement on stage, highlights that all is not what it seems and is elegantly illuminating in this regard.

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