The Winter’s Tale, Crucible Theatre
Shakespeare’s penultimate play explores themes of loss and separation, rebirth and reconciliation, through a fanciful plot that requires your imagination to “awake your faith”.
For reasons best known to himself, Leontes the king of Sicilia, becomes convinced that his wife Hermione has had an affair with his best friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia, who has fathered the child she is carrying.
It sets off a train of events that leads to the baby daughter fetching up in Bohemia as the adopted daughter of a shepherd and Hermione reportedly dying of grief (one of many dramatic incidents that occur off stage).
Jealousy does not simmer in this drama but positively erupts right from the start and one glance from Daniel Lapaine’s petulant king, used to having his own way, sets him on a path to demented isolation. Claire Price’s Hermione exudes innocence as she moves from mild surprise at the accusation to stoicism and ultimately desperation. Barbara Marten is an admirably formidable Paulina quite capable of leaving the men cowering.
Paul Miller’s production eschews any fripperies and is played out on designer Simon Daw’s largely bare set - a polished wood floor and panelled back wall for the first half in Sicilia and bright plastered walls for Bohemia. A giant sheep’s head is, however, wheeled on for the sheepshearing festival and dance of the satyrs.
A first half of striking clarity (this is a play that can easily baffle) and intensity is to some extent is diffused with the play’s shift to a tone of levity in the second half as the rude mechanicals are let loose. With the two central characters, Leontes and Hermione, absent, it’s hard not to feel impatient to get back to the nub of the story however entertaining are the performances of shepherds Gareth Williams and Patrick Walshe McBride and Keir Charles as Autocylus.
Once we get back to Sicilia and the final statue scene which can seem silly, it is here actually quite touching.