Before you even take note as to which of Shakespeare’s plays is being performed at the Theatre Royal Nottingham, many people will immediately jump to the fact that is is an Royal Shakespeare Company production. Most will assume that the name alone, the RSC, will draw in an audience. But for many, it’s another Shakespeare play they won’t be able, or bothered enough, to understand. The Winter’s Tale is a fine example of how the RSC aims to do the opposite – to put Shakespeare on the 21st century stage and make it enjoyable. This production may not be perfect, but it certainly does demonstrate how we’ll never run out of ways to put on a Shakespeare play…or to make a bear appear live on stage!

Director Lucy Bailey’s adaptation of The Winter’s Tale is a thoroughly enjoyable three hours. Bailey manages to create a production that is entertaining for the whole audience; from the keenest fan to the Shakespeare novice; however in amongst this noble attempt to reach her whole audience it can feel that the play itself gets lost somewhere along the way.

Copy of Tara Fitzgerald (Hermione), Adam Levy (Polixenes)

The performances are strong from the entire cast; the emotive performances from Rakie Ayola and Tara Fitzgerald keep the audience involved for the first half, whilst it’s the comedic talents of Nick Holder and Pearce Quigley that push the second act forward. Even amongst the busyness of a large ensemble, as well as dance routines, the actors manage to portray this classic tale in a wonderful way.  The plot itself can be complex at times yet all the actors created characters that were both intriguing and relatable. Sadly, it’s Bailey’s overwhelming use of set and stage that seem to hinder this production.

The projected backdrop of a coastal sea never seems to give off the right reflection of what is happening on stage; rather it becomes a distraction, a confusion, for the audience to ignore. The use of changing scenes, day to night, changes in weather, is clever, yet the novelty wears off quickly, much in the same way as the set itself.

Copy of Tara Fitzgerald (Hermione)

As Leontes mourns the death of his wife and son, he soars above the stage on a metal cylinder and remains there for the majority of the play. It cannot be doubted that this is visually spectacular, and is certainly another tool to reach those who may be unsure of Shakespeare. However, in regards to fitting it into the confusing 19th century seaside set, which is also filled with singing and dancing, it simply is not fully successful.

‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ is often remarked as the most famous stage direction of all time, referring to Antigonus’ untimely death near the end of Act One. Perhaps, this bizarre stage direction can shed light as to what this production is missing – just a little more simplicity amongst an otherwise delightful play.

Annie Macarthur

All images by RSC

RSC’s The Winter’s Tale runs at Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 30th March. For ticket information go to: http://www.trch.co.uk/index.aspx?articleid=14727

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