I’ve always found The Winter’s Tale fascinating, as in Shakespeare’s final years he intermingles comedy with tragedy, switches revenge for redemption and becomes increasingly drawn to a world of magic. It’s an ambitious and often difficult blend, and one that Stephen Lee’s vision expertly brings to life in a evening of suspicion, love and atonement.
Along with an extremely strong cast across the board, the performance lives up to its promotional material emphasizing it’s three female leads: Hermione, Paulina and Perdita. I think the role of Hermione can sometimes come with the risk embodying such an innocent, ‘perfect’ ideal that the character loses her depth, but Katharine Innes’ take manages to mingle heartbroken frustration with the warmth and regality that justifies others’ admiring praise. Kudos must also be given to her ability to remain completely still for an impressive amount of time! Producer Angelique Malcolm is equally powerful as Hermione’s quick-witted, down to earth and deeply loyal supporter Paulina, whose enduring call-outs of Leontes are some of my favourite lines in the Shakespeare canon. Ivy Latimer also embodies the youthfulness, reason and uncertain longing of the princess-turned-farm girl-turned-princess Perdita.
I personally find the character of Leontes to be one of Shakespeare’s most frightening creations, and Adam May makes a chillingly rapid transition from fretting in court to having such confidence in his delusions he can serenely threaten those against him. The crippling nature of both his paranoia and his grieving regret is extremely potent, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether his sadness and self-loathing have atoned for his atrocities crimes.
While Jimmy James Eaton, Alicia Beckhurst and Brian Edmond are strong in the first act, they truly come alive in their later comedic roles. Autolycus in particular is hilarious, gleefully and unrepentantly delighting in his roguishness and hoping between music genres as diverse as the character’s disguises.
Is it magic, sorcery or mortal cleverness? Can atrocities ever be redeemed, and if so is remorse enough?
The show requires cast and crew to navigate the drastic tonal shift that could be explained as moving from Othello to As You Like It in the space of an interval, and Class Act successfully rises to the challenge. The shift from tragedy to comedy and winter to spring is visually embodied by every element of the play in the second, from flowers adorning the already impressive set, the lighting’s change from a chilly blue to warm pink, and both the obvious and subtle shifts in costume (including Leontes’ fitting snowflake tie). The embroidery of snowflakes and flowers on many of the costumes in gorgeous, with Hermione’s last gown truly standing out. The abstract blend of contemporary and period costumes felt strangely natural, and created a magical atmosphere while also also little modern touches such as the gossip magazine latching onto Hermione’s story or Polixenes hiring a private investigator to monitor his absent son.
While the most obvious change in tone at the end of the first half can feel a little jarring after what precedes it, it helps lead the audience more smoothly into the second half, aided by touches of comedy from the beginning. The transition across both seemingly opposing genres and sixteen years is also aided by the choice of presenting the second half’s introduction through voice-over, allowing the audience to take the changing world. It says a lot about both the play’s complexity and the company’s success that the second half can seamlessly have the audience laughing for an hour and still bring them to tears at it’s conclusion – something for which I didn’t feel the same potency even in the live screening of Kenneth Branagh’s take on the play earlier this year.
I personally loved the ambiguity of the ending, because it’s akin to much of the play itself. Is it magic, sorcery or mortal cleverness? Can atrocities ever be redeemed, and if so is remorse enough? Even after the play’s conclusion, I’m still not sure – I’ll leave it to you to decide as you witness this enchanting production.