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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