Watermill - The Winter's Tale
20th January to 19th March 2005.
From The Times.
Halls version begins like a twisted childrens game, as the young Prince Mamillius, played by the heart-stoppingly beautiful Tam Williams, manipulates wooden dolls to the sound of tinkling nursery music. A frail figure in pyjamas, he seems frighteningly vulnerable when the scene bursts into life and he is thrown among the bustle of the court and the dangerous, complex emotional transactions of adult life. As Richard Clothiers brutal Leontes, consumed with sexual jealousy, sets about destroying his family, the boy watches, wide-eyed with horror. What he witnesses proves deadly. Mamilliuss offstage death is here unavoidably the legacy of abuse; his small, pale ghost haunts the action accusingly to its disturbing end.
The Sicilia scenes are uncompromisingly savage. Clothier kicks his heavily pregnant wife Hermione (played with dignity by Simon Scardifield) to the floor and spits on her; he flings the terrified Mamillius aside like a toy, and his hatred for his newborn baby daughter is chilling. Its behaviour bordering on the psychotic, and the shiny silver band of the crown he wears on his forehead looks like some sinister piece of surgical equipment. That Polixenes (Vince Leigh), his former friend and ruler of Bohemia, wears one similar implies that despotic inhumanity is a psychological defect that they share, and presages the cruelty with which Polixenes treats own son Florizel and the lost Sicilian princess, Perdita.
But the productions Bohemian section feels anticlimactic after what has come before. The sheep-shearing sequence, always a sticky spot, with its less than side-splitting clowning and irksome pastoral jollity, here has a galumphing blokiness that needs offsetting with more delicacy and tenderness. Tony Bells ageing Northern rocker Autolycus is fun, though, and there is an enjoyably daft appearance by a flock of fluffy, floppy-eared sheep.
Such tomfoolery is forgotten, however, by the final reconciliation scene: stage-managed by Adam Levys elegant, intelligent, firecracker Paulina, its as painful as it is equivocal. Its enough to make you forgive the shortcomings of a production that, in its finest hour, is unforgettable.
From the Guardian.
Leontes' court is frosted with ice and thick with the smug smell of cigars and brandy. But something is rotten in Sicilia. Through Mamillius's appalled eyes we see the cracks as the raging Leontes takes against his wife, who he mistakenly believes has been unfaithful with Polixenes. Jealousy strikes here like a hot flush in a cold white light. It is swiftly followed by madness - the madness of men who cut themselves off emotionally from their wives and children.
In many ways, Hall's production can be read as a critique of bad fathering, with the behaviour of Leontes and Polixenes in sharp contrast to that of the old Shepherd who discovers and brings up the lost princess, Perdita. At the end, Mamillius recoils from his father as if he has had a nightmarish vision of the man he may become and rejects it. If there is any redemption here, it is a ghostly one.
There are many innovative touches in this beautifully acted evening, from the triple casting of Mamillius as Time and Perdita to a Paulina who is not the serene wise woman of tradition but a spitfire who will never let Leontes forget what he has done. The Bohemia scenes are giddy fun, with troublesome sheep and the roguish Autolycus played as a naff, ageing rocker. Even "Exit, pursued by a bear" gets a new twist. Roars of approval all round.
There is a 4-star review by Whatsonstage ("this wonderfully strong company... gripping").
There is a review by Reviews Gate here ("get there - it's stunning... a thrilling and often ferocious work... magnificent production... as near perfect as theatre can get... this venture is quite inspiring").
From Newbury Theatre.
Call me old fashioned, but men playing womens parts doesnt really work for me I know thats how it was in Shakespeares time; I find it too distracting. But Propellers all-male company have once again shown that top-quality acting and directing can overcome all objections.
The first half of the play is set in Sicilia, ruled by King Leontes (Richard Clothier). We should realise from the manic glint in his eye that things are not going to turn out well for his family. He accuses his pregnant wife Hermione, played with resigned sadness by Simon Scardifield, of having an affair with Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Vince Leigh) and disowns the baby girl when she is born. By the end of the act, his son Mamillius (a wistful performance from Tam Williams) and Hermione are dead, and the baby abandoned on foreign shores. All is not lost, however, as baby Perdita is rescued and taken in by Old Shepherd and his son, a nice comic double act from Chris Myles and James Tucker.
Things look up in the second half, where time has moved on 16 years. Perdita (Tam Williams) is now a beautiful young lady, in love with Florizel (played by Prince Harry lookalike Dugald Bruce Lockhart) who is the son of King Polixenes but isnt letting on about Daddys job. More comic relief comes from Autolycus, a rogue think of a dissipated Tom Jones crossed with Eric Morecambe, with a bit of Del Boy thrown in. The main characters return to Sicilia for the moving ending, orchestrated by Paulina (a powerful performance from Adam Levy) but we are left with a doubt about whether the ending is happy, as you might infer from reading the play, or not.
As with all the Propeller productions I have seen, director Edward Hall brings Shakespeare to life in a way that is nothing short of magical. It takes your brain (well, mine anyway) a few minutes to get into the language of the 17th century, but after that its as clear as crystal and totally absorbing. Go and see it you will enjoy it. I wonder what the bard would make of it I guess hed be rocking along with Autolycus and the band.
From Kick FM.
Edward Halls all-male Propeller company are back at the Watermill with Shakespeares The Winters Tale. This is a story about sexual jealousy and the devastating effect it has on the family of the King of Sicilia. The acting is excellent, under an inspiring director, and the play is totally absorbing. Dont be put off going to see Shakespeare because you think its too boring or difficult this is going to be another award-winning play, so see it now while youve got the chance.
From the Daily Telegraph.
Can you care for a heavily pregnant queen brought to the point of death
by the accusations of her insanely jealous husband when she's played by a
balding thirtysomething bloke with what looks like a pillow stuffed up his
dress? The answer, in Edward Hall's superlative all-male production of The
Winter's Tale, is a resounding "yes".
From the Financial Times.
Somehow it does not matter that The Winter's Tale is more complex than any single production can fully realise. As with so much of Shakespeare, we find our breath taken away by the originality of its human relationships, its theatrical situations, its violent emotions and above all its piercing imagery, so that to return to the play in the theatre is often to feel we are experiencing it for the first time.
At Newbury's enchanting Watermill Theatre, the director Edward Hall has been working since the mid-1990s on a series of Shakespeare plays with his all-male Propeller Company, with marvellous results. Propeller is a real company; and its casting of men in women's roles is always startling - never trying to fool us that these are real women, always making us feel anew how these women are coping in a man's world, and sometimes bringing a kind of outsize force to the heroines that makes their qualities mint-fresh. There are many layers of theatrical experience going on here, yet what is most valuable is that these Propeller productions confer an innocence on the plays: nothing here feels too clever, too precious.
I suppose there are imperfections in this production. I find Adam Levy's Paulina too choreographed, the least integrated member of the ensemble. It is revelatory to have both Mamilius and Perdita played by one actor, but Tam Williams is a bit monotonous, especially in Perdita's brink-of-tears expression. Tony Bell brings scampish fun to Autolycus, but does not light up the charm in his words. Yet the play enthrals. Simon Scardifield makes Hermione the play's centre of charm and pathos, and takes time off to play the shepherdess Dorcas with terrific silliness (Jules Werner as the shepherdess Mopsa is even funnier). Richard Clothier, speaking the taxing role of the jealous Leontes with effortless naturalness, lets Shakespeare astound us just by the simplicity with which he utters such images as "There may be in the cup/ A spider steep'd, and one may drink. I have drunk, and seen the spider." We gasp, but he sweeps on.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
So... who's sorry now?
The Winter's Tale, at The Watermill, until Saturday, March 19
This is one stylish production, with Ed Hall's all-male Propeller crew sporting sharp suits and brilliantined hair to raise their brandy glasses in the cigar-smoke fug reminiscent of gentlemen's clubs - the convivial setting for the royal court of Sicilia.
Leontes may have been king, but certainly no gentleman. As candles
flickered along the cold grey walls, his mood changed in a flash as he
turned on his pregnant queen and friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia.
For the next hour-and-a-half we witnessed his crazed jealousy, casting out the blameless Bohemia, exiling loyal courtiers, incarcerating his queen and abandoning his gaol-born daughter to the wilderness.
All reason gone, nothing could stop him, neither his son's death nor, seemingly, his wife's. So strong was his paranoid conviction that he rejected out of hand The Oracle's 'innocent' verdict on the queen.
With candles snuffed out, Sicilia became a dark place. And come the interval, we were begging for some light relief, which arrived in the nick of time, as the action transferred to Bohemia, land of ex-pats, flowers, fertility and gay abandon.
What followed next was raucous cavorting by the inimitable 12-stong, 22 part cast and on Wednesday evening they shamelessly played up to the delight of an audience of young ladies from a certain Cheltenham college.
Time threads throughout this tale, and has a way of resolving things. Reconciliation is finally achieved back in Sicilia.
Despite the late hour, my 11-year-old had no problem grasping the plot of this three hour Shakespeare -actually, he said that it was the best thing he'd seen at The Watermill. Such is the accessibility of Ed Hall's production. If you don't go to anything else all year, don't miss this one.
From The Independent.
In an original but piercingly apt directorial touch, the small boy Mamillius (beautiful Tam Williams) haunts the proceedings here. Environed by candle-lit Jacobean panelling, the modern-dress court of Sicilia is a bluff world of cigars and brandy. The boy watches with frowning horror as his father Leontes (the excellent Richard Clothier) topples into the pit of insane jealousy and even stoops to kicking Hermione, the pregnant wife (portrayed with heart-stopping dignity by Simon Scardifield) whom he baselessly suspects of adultery with his best friend.
In depicting the drama's generational progression (youth, to some extent, rectifying what age has wrecked) most productions have the same actress playing Hermione and her long-lost daughter, Perdita. Here, though, it's Tam Williams who graduates from boyhood's pyjamas to a lovely floral frock and from portraying the child who died as a result of the father's berserk suspicions to delineating the girl who survives and reunites the family.
With the theatre decked in garlands, the infamously difficult sheep-shearing festival is here a riot of terrific, unforced comedy. Tony Bell is a disreputable joy as Autolycus, presenting this pick-pocketing rogue as an ageing Northern rocker who manages to fleece James Tucker's blissful Young Shepherd of his entire wardrobe. The idiotic sight of Tucker unwittingly (but avidly) co-operating in this striptease sent tears of mirth streaming down my face.
A creepy, ghost-like atmosphere returns with the fifth act, where Hall puts particular stress on the partial nature of the reconciliation and rebuilt happiness. He's noticed that when the statue of Hermione comes to life, she does not address a word to her husband, speaking only to Perdita. This production intensifies that oddly unsettling aspect. The happy ending unravels, with the courtiers peeling away from the triumphant Leontes. Divesting himself of his frock, Tam Williams becomes once again the son who is conspicuous by his absence at this reunion. He stares at Leontes with accusing incredulity - the whole play seems to be framed as a nightmare of bad fathering - before blowing out the candle with a pained dismissiveness and bringing his ordeal to an end. Unreservedly recommended.
From the Sunday Times.