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Progress Theatre - The Winter's Tale

17th to 29th July 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Right royal carry-on around the ruins

Passion, jealousy and abuse of power in Progress Theatre's The Winter's Tale

Progress Theatre: The Winter's Tale, in the Abbey ruins, Reading, from Monday, July 17 to Saturday, July 29

The Winter's Tale is described as a comedy and as one of Shakespeare's later romances probably written in 1610 or 1611.

In the theatre It can often appear to be two separate plays, with a vivid and dramatic split between the intense, disturbing psychodrama of the first half and the refreshing energy and joy of the second. It is a play that stubbornly and joyfully demands that theatrical mantra 'suspension of disbelief' with its blend of tragedy, pastoral comedy and romance.

The drama is propelled by Leontes, a hand wringing manic performance by Chris Westgate contains all the passion of the evil jealousy that stems from a belief that his wife and Polixenes have been 'paddling palms'.

By abusing his authority as King he brings ruin and eventual death on his blameless wife and son and furthermore losing his infant daughter.

In the earlier scenes, it is difficult to understand his anger and he contrasts with a saner more balanced Polixenes. However, even Polixenes later shows his tyrannical side when refusing to allow his son Florizel to marry Perdita.

At this point, it is best not to award any thought to these young lovers who enter late in the narrative and come across merely as a trifling plot device.

Compare their new age pastoral whimsy to Paulina or Hermione. As Hermione, a victim of baseless jealousy, Hannah Robertson maintains a majestic endurance, nobility and fearlessness that the role requires.

However, for me the heart of the play and the most captivating aspect of this production is the moral force personified by Paulina, a sharp-tongued fearless woman who boldly fronts Polixenes and provides support for his wife.

In this role, Rachel Pearson achieves an incredible presence on stage as she scolds Leontes for his irrational behaviour. She is the only character who feels true loss at the end of the play. Her performance was breathtakingly frank and genuine.

Nonetheless, let's bear in mind that this is comedy so we must now praise the excellent Peter Ashton as the loveable rogue Autolycus 'the pedlar and snapper-up of unconsidered trifles'. A magnificently wrought comic performance and in the spirit of Elizabethan theatre a performance that even managed a round of applause from the staid 'groundlings'.

Anne Latto, the Director, bravely presented this magical play 'in the round' and superbly overcomes all the inherent pitfalls of this 'problem play'.

Set against the sun-kissed majesty of the Abbey ruins the play unfolded to an appreciative audience not only enchanted by the location but also rewarded by another professional Progress performance.