Familiar play is intriguingly and inventively reinterpreted

The Winter's Tale. Photo by Ian Tilton. (s)
The Winter's Tale. Photo by Ian Tilton. (s)
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I think they say that football is a game of two halves, writes Pippa Munro Hebden.

Well David Thacker’s insightful production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the Bolton Octagon is definitely a play of two halves.

The evening demonstrates clearly the idea of a tragi-comedy.

The play begins in the stark, cold marble setting of Sicilia where King Leontes (Rob Edwards) is struck by an intense jealousy of his wife Hermione (Amy Nuttall) and his best friend King Polixenes of Bohemia (Christopher Wright).

This leads to tragedy as Hermione is imprisoned and Polixenes is forced to flee with Camillo (Marc Small). Leontes’ son dies. His wife is reported dead and the baby girl she has borne is sent to be left to die in the desert carried by Antigonus (Eric Potts). Inevitably he lands in the dark, in Bohemia, but rapidly dies in one of the Bard’s most famous stage directions, ‘exit pursued by a bear’. Almost immediately Eric Potts reappears, dressed as the Old Shepherd, who takes the baby Perdita into his home.

The second act shows us a lovely summer scene where marble pillars are twined with flowers and garlands of green stretch above and all is bathed in a warm light (wonderful design by James Cotterill) and we are set up for the comedy, the dancing and humour of a groups of rustics, very much in the Shakespearian tradition.

Perdita (Leila Mimmack) is in love with Florizel (Harry Long) who is inevitably the son of King Polixenes. Cue the opportunity for Polixenes and Camillo to disguise themselves to find out what is going on. There is almost another potential tragedy when Polixenes quarrels with his son and threatens Perdita. However all is rapidly resolved when everyone returns to Sicilia and finds the now desperately repentant Leontes who is being guided by Hermione’s friend Paulina (Margot Leicester) who is almost like a one woman Greek chorus. Shakespeare gives us a kind of fairy tale world, like the fables we love with lots of topsy-turvy bits and unexpected twists. Leontes’ jealousy, although distressing does not lead to the tragedy of Othello. In this, a play from the end of his life, there is a chance for redemption, forgiveness and a happy ending. I must confess that I was delighted to overhear at the end, a gentleman in the row behind exclaim, ‘well I never expected that ending’. How wonderful to see a Shakespeare play for the first time and for the rest of us to see a familiar play intriguingly and inventively reinterpreted.

The Winter’s Tale: Octagon Theatre Bolton until November 5th.