The Winter’s Tale @ Lion & Unicorn Theatre

Another round of Shakespeare! This time it is The Winter’s Tale performed by the fantastic Shakespeare Sessions. The company are very talented and have great direction by Ross McGregor, who brings to the stage a steampunk themed play, and actually for me, the most fun adaptation of The Winter’s Tale I have seen.

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Christopher Neels as Leontes

Shakespeare’s play is about King Leontes, a loving father and husband, who is suddenly engulfed by the idea that his pregnant wife Hermione has been unfaithful to him. In his anger, he imprisons her, and is told that she has died during childbirth. Leontes does not believe he is the father of the baby girl Hermione has given birth to, and so the baby is abandoned on the shores of Bohemia. Fast forward sixteen years, and baby Perdita has grown into a young woman, adopted by the Shepherd who discovered her. Meanwhile, Leontes has been grieving the tragedy he caused, but with the help of some love, forgiveness, music, and magic, the play ends happily for the characters.

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Christopher Neels as Leontes; Hannah Ellis as Paulina

The Winter’s Tale is split into two parts, and leading the first half is Christopher Neels as Leontes. Neels portrays the tyrannical character perfectly, capturing just the right amount of madness and love in Leontes. Opposite him, Elizabeth Appleby was superb in successfully presenting the audience with a very dignified Hermione.  The relationship between the two characters was very well explored. I particularly like the way McGregor uses lighting and eerie music to guide the audience through Leontes’ mind, and we too see the inappropriate relationship between Hermione and his friend Polixenes (played by Ben Bradford). The audience knows this is all in his imagination, but Leontes’ flaw is that he unfortunately doesn’t.

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Nic McQuillan as Clown; David Robert Olley as Shpherd

The second half of the play is my favourite, as I’m sure it is with most viewers. The switch from the tragic first half, to the fun and humorous pastoral second half of the play was met with great reactions from the audience. McGregor uses warm lighting and earthy costumes to capture the spirit of Bohemia, which is a clear difference to the metallic, cool atmosphere felt in the first half of the play. It was great to see the cast effortlessly switch from the tragedy to the comedy too. Hannah Ellis in particular manages this perfectly, doubling as Paulina in the first half and Dorcas in the second. The interactions between her and Laura Cooper as Mopsa were actually hilarious, especially their gestures and movement. I had tears from laughing so much. Equally, Nic McQuillan was very funny as the Clown. The physical comedy between him, David Robert Olley as the Shepherd, and Robert Myles as Autolycus was very energetic. It’s great to see actors enjoy themselves so much while performing, which consequently makes the spectators have fun too.

Shakespeare Sessions have once again produced a great adaptation of a classic play. The modern touches help the actors break the boundaries between Shakespeare’s language and the audience, making a show that can be enjoyed by everyone. I can’t wait to see what the team have lined up for their next season.

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Hamlet @ Park90

I’m back on the Bard, and this time it’s ACS Random’s Hamlet. The company have been performing Shakespeare’s work since 2011, aiming to make accessible shows for modern audiences. In this adaptation, director Andrew Shepherd has successfully created a very enjoyable Hamlet, which has a running time of just over 2 hours, including the interval! Any company who can achieve that is worth a lot of praise in my opinion.

Set during the Victorian period, the play opens with a seance, and a ghost is summoned onto the stage. We find out that one of those involved in the seance is Horatio (Andrew Venning), who sends word to his friend Hamlet (Jack Baldwin) to tell him he has seen the ghost of his dead father. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Kate Terence) has now married his uncle Claudius (Alexander Nash), who has replaced his father as the King of Denmark. Hamlet is then visited by his father’s ghost who tells him that it was in fact his uncle who killed him in order to take the throne. Hamlet then proceeds to avenge his father’s death, which leads to a very tragic ending to the play.

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Jack Baldwin as Hamlet

The cast were brilliant to watch on stage. Baldwin has perfectly captured the title character’s madness, and I especially liked his interactions with Terence’s Gertrude. It’s always interesting to see what actors do with the complex mother-son relationship in the play, and the two handle this portrayal very well. Terence does have a likability as Gertrude, which is very difficult to achieve in my opinion so props to her! Also I really enjoyed watching Venning as Horatio, who brought warmth to the stage as one of my favourite Shakespeare characters.

Shepherd’s Victorian adaptation works very well in numerous ways. Firstly, the supernatural elements of the play suits the era perfectly. Beginning the play with a seance which prompted the appearance of the dead king’s ghost was very well thought out. Secondly, Ophelia’s madness also fits into the period well, where a lot of strange ideas were written about women and insanity. These element of the play definitely made it a Victorian Christmas ghost story.

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Scarlett Clifford as Ophelia

However, one thing that I am still not sure about in the play is the characterisation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were both portrayed as prostitutes. I feel quite conflicted about this. I can’t decide if it was a great choice because it conforms to the Victorian theme. Or if it was a bad choice because they are women who are killed off for betraying the male title character, and them being prostitutes justifies this. I just can’t decide on this one this time. I might have to see it again to make my mind up.

One final thing I want to say is that I absolutely loved all the ghostly events. The dead King’s ghost (performed amazingly by Christ Huntly-Turner) looked like it had come out of one of the paintings used in the performance. The set design by Zahra Mansouri was perfect, and the way it was incorporated into the play to portray the supernatural occurrences was superb. My advice is to go and see the play, because it is a great adaptation that brings together two historical time periods in an interesting and clever way. And that running time? It really was like Christmas.