The Winters Tale

Photo Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

If ever you wanted to know just how joyous and vibrant Shakespeare can be, come see this production.

But don’t expect the cast to be leaping around in tights and cod-pieces. The shift of costume is to the 21st century, and to a very Scottish place – it also has a shift of language and attitude that, like the best of Shakespeare’s work, makes it immediately appealing.

We still have Shakespeare’s language intact, iambic and beautiful, but the marvellous comic start after the interval with ribald action in the stalls and grand circle is all in pure, delightful Lowland Scots. As in Shakespeare’s time, the ad-libs and up-to-the-minute social and political commentary are topical and a bit risky, and delight the audience as the tone of the play shifts from dark to light.

The sounds and setting, from the start, signal a production that’s not afraid to innovate, with a four-piece musical troupe of actors/musicians in a soundbooth to the left, constant throughout scene changes taking place behind a partial curtain to the right. And Aly Macrae’s music, both vocal and instrumental, is incredibly original and lovely, adding a layer of lament, elegy, danger or just undertone to the action on stage.

The acting ensemble are superbly cast, and work together perfectly. The ease with which characters swap in later acts and take on new roles, with John Stahl’s endearing Shepherd and Jimmy Chisholm’s light-fingered chancer Autolycus particularly outstanding. And the staging and effects leading up to the famous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a Bear” is a real delight. There is a host of other masterful use of stagecraft, lighting and imagery at play here, making this a truly memorable, moving and just downright entertaining production.

The use of Scots, especially in parts of the lighter second part of the performance, is seamless and makes the language of Shakespeare even more fresh and beautiful, and there’s more than a touch of Rab C Nesbitt about Autolycus, and echoes of Rikki Fulton in John Stahl’s Shepherd. Perditia, coming across as a natural and feisty Glesga lassie, fits perfectly, and it’s a tribute to James Robertson’s poetry in translating Shakespeare to Scots that these scenes so sparkle with life.

Max Webster’s taut direction, and the inventiveness in the staging and use of props, especially in the latter parts of the production delight, and the final scene, with the resurrection of Hermione, has one rubbing one’s eyes at the perfection of Frances Grey’s immobility, and puts a lump in the throat as she finally returns to her family and reanimates John Michie’s distraught Leontes. The arc of the story, ending with love and hope finally overcoming the loss and destruction of the past, is gorgeously drawn.

The Winter’s Tale has been an overlooked play, perhaps because it doesn’t quite fit into an easy category. It’s both comedy and tragedy, with love, betrayal, magic, and misfortune all mixed in. And there’s that famous bear, of course. The genius of this production is the way that it siezes the energy of the situations and the language to the full, and acknowledges the almost Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the mood in the story. This production puts the play back up there with some of Shakespeare’s most resonant and memorable work – it’s superbly entertaining.

It’s a joy, it’s funny, it’s tragic, it’s vibrant and beautiful. Book a ticket – no, book a few, and invite some family and friends, because you will love this and will want to share it. It has, in spades, all you could want from an evening at the theatre.

5 Stars

Click to book tickets for The Winter’s Tale today
Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
10 February – 4 March 2017    7:30pm, Matinees Wed & Sat: 2pm    2hr30m approx including one interval