Taking Shakespeare from script to stage, is a task that has been undertaken by many, with varying degrees of success. My expectations for Max Webster’s production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ were high. I hoped it would do the play justice, but didn’t expect to be blown away. It was to my great surprise that I found myself laughing out loud, on the verge of tears, and springing to my feet to applaud the cast, within the space of the two hours. Webster’s interpretation of the play is ambitious in its use of music and setting, yet also absolutely successful in bringing the story closer to the audience.
As a rule, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is a play that many directors shy away from. As it’s one of Shakespeare’s later plays, it’s coloured by an artistic honesty, seeking truth in theatre, rather than popularity. It incorporates comedy, tragedy, treason, redemption, scepticism and faith – elements that are difficult to represent alongside each other without becoming profuse. This wasn’t a problem for Webster and his cast, who made the dark first half a complement to the light-hearted second part, telling us a tale of beauty in adversity. The play makes the audience feel at home by setting it in present-day Edinburgh and Fife. Although at times the use of iPhones and bright life jackets broke into the story a little suddenly, overall the play felt familiar – particularly when Antolycus, played by Jimmy Chisholm, gave a stirring rendition of The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’!
Combining countryside and city culture, signalling jovially toward the sometimes incomprehensible Highlander accent, reminding us all of the joys of a good ceilidh, and the unapologetic attitude towards its Scottish roots, was, in my opinion, one of the play’s greatest strengths.
For many, Shakespearean English can be difficult to navigate, so the additional background music was a useful accompaniment to the script. Composer Alasdair Macrae kept to traditional Scottish folk tunes, which in his words, ‘Tinkle bells of recognition in some of the audience’. The cast were undeniably stunning, each actor bringing different strengths to the performance. John Michie in the role of Leontes perfectly portrayed a seemingly irreversible descent into madness, complementing Maureen Beattie’s fiery and compelling Paulina. A special mention must be given to Frances Grey, who brought incredible versatility to the character of Hermione, a queen banished from her own kingdom, yet still able to love the man that cast her out.
In contrast with the more serious roles played by the older members of the cast, the younger generation of actors gave the play a kick of fresh energy. From the touching portrayal of Florizel and Perdita’s romantic love by Scott Mackie and Fiona Wood, to the innocence of David Carnie as Mamillius, the production used the potential of youth in theatre to its advantage.
Overall, I would highly recommend this production. It’s a poignant piece that reminds us that all is not lost, which is particularly well-timed in the context of current events. Webster’s production reminds us that Shakespeare transcends the barriers of both time and language. If you haven’t seen ‘The Winter’s Tale’ before, it’s a wonderful introduction to this side of Shakespeare’s career, and if you have, it’s a retelling that will stay with you beyond the final curtain. If that doesn’t convince you, the famous stage direction of, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’, is brought to life by Carnie in a truly magnificent bear onesie!
Guest Reviewer: Lucie Vovk
Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic
‘The Winter’s Tale’ runs until 4 march at The Lyceum, Edinburgh
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