The Winter’s Tale

Opera House, Wellington

01/03/2012 - 04/03/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

“Shakespeare as it should be done, fast, sinuous and surprising.” The Independent (UK)

Celebrated for combining a rigorous approach to the text with an exciting, physical aesthetic, all-male Shakespearian company Propeller brings two of the Bard’s most popular plays to the 2012 Festival: Henry V and The Winter’s Tale.

Artistic Director Edward Hall’s inventive approach has seen A Comedy of Errors set on a tacky 1980s package holiday island and Richard III in a Victorian hospital. Hall’s Winter’s Tale is a nightmare of family disintegration. Wrote The Daily Telegraph: “Can you care for a heavily pregnant queen brought to the point of death by the accusations of her insanely jealous husband when she’s played by a balding thirty-something bloke with what looks like a pillow stuffed up his dress? The answer, in Edward Hall’s superlative all-male production of The Winter’s Tale, is a resounding ‘yes’.”

One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Henry V tells the tale of the greatest British warrior in English folklore. At a time when increasing numbers of British servicemen and women are seeing active service, Propeller brings its own unique take to the story. Dangerous, thrilling and deeply moving, Henry V travels from the corridors of Westminster to the battlefields of France.

Wrote The Independent of Propeller: The overriding feeling is of a Shakespeare pulsing with muscular life – fresh, physical and utterly modern.’’ Edward Hall is also Artistic Director of the Hampstead Theatre,London, and the son of renowned British theatre director Sir Peter Hall.

Henry V and The Winter’s Tale

are at the Opera House

from 29 February to 4 March

as part of the 2012 New Zealand International Arts Festival, Wellington, 24 February – 18 March.

Tickets $38 – $78 available from Ticketek. Save 15% when you buy an A or B ticket for both Henry V and The Winter’s Tale. 

Moving and magical

Review by Lori Leigh 02nd Mar 2012

Tonight Propeller jumps a decade or so forward in Shakespeare’s career to one of his late plays and romances, The Winter’s Tale.  Though The Winter’s Tale, like Henry V, has a king at its helm, the play is decidedly more domestic.

King Leontes is at war not with a bordering country, but with himself, his wife, his closest friend, and most of all the pervasive disease of fear and jealousy that infects his mind and consequently his court. 

In part due to the disparities of genre, style, and theme between the two plays, Propeller is brave to pair The Winter’s Tale with Henry V, but the productions do not seem as disconnected as one might imagine.

Seeing the two shows alongside one another displays the pure talent and adaptability of Propeller as a company. Their move from history to romance (or tragicomedy), and from early play to late, seems almost effortless. But also, the aesthetic of the fourteen-strong ensemble, again playing a variety of roles and embracing the language, binds the work together.

Propeller’s production of The Winter’s Tale begins with steel-like grey, cold walls and double doors framing the stage which is covered in small drawing mannequin bodies, a tiny wagon filling with sand trickling from the ceiling (presumably a representation of time) and Mamillius, Leontes’ young son. 

One of the mannequin bodies becomes Mamillius’ doll-like toy throughout the play, used as “the man who dwelt by a churchyard” in his winter’s tale and presumably also representing Leontes.

The concept, and one that has been used in many productions before — though here done with just the right amount of subtlety — is that Mamillius functions as a kind of narrator (not too dissimilar from the Chorus in Henry V), magically conjuring pieces of the action into being and linking the parts of the story. Along this line, both Antigonus’ ship and the man-eating bear are Mamillius’ toys (played with him during the respective scenes), and it is also Mamillius who becomes the character Time when the play leaps sixteen years into the future.

The Sicilian scenes are tragic and haunting, especially Hermione’s trial. When Hermione (Richard Dempsey) appears she wears a blood stained dress (from unsanitary childbirth) and has a shaved head. Many of the audience gasp on opening night as the image is disturbing, reminiscent of ‘mob justice’, and one that viscerally conveys how the queen has been demeaned and shamed as a prisoner. Later, in the scene when Hermione’s death is reported, Robert Hands as Leontes crumples onstage, the picture of a repentant and broken man.

It is a welcome relief when the play shifts away from the darkness and pain of death in Sicilia to the comedy of Bohemia, joyfully executed by the ensemble. “Take it away, Saxophone sheep!” is yelled, as a full piece band with sheep chorus takes over the stage. It is complete with a Beatles drum-kit that on second-glance reads “The Bleatles”.  To complement the band, Autolycus (Tony Bell) is played as a washed-up rock star. One of Autolycus’ ballads is set to the tune of Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ and receives not only a house of laughter, but also applause. Hilarious.

Another highlight of Bohemiais Ben Allen as Perdita, who also doubles as Mamillius. Allen portrays the young princess with passion and truth and there is excellent chemistry between Allen and Finn Hanlon, who plays Florizel.

It is nice to see that the company can commit to some of its cross-gender casting in an authentic way though the dynamism that should exist between Paulina and Leontes is rather weak in this production. For example, Paulina throws the word “tyrant” around as if it has no weight or consequence, missing the dramatic stakes of a calling the king such a name.

When the play circles back toBohemia, Leontes’ crippled mind has taken its toll on his body and he relies on a wheelchair and cane. Restoration to his daughter, Perdita, also brings restoration to the king’s limbs and the audience is able to witness rebirth.

Hermione’s statue is staged with beautiful simplicity. She ‘appears’ down-stage right, her back to the audience, and quietly becomes “stone no more” with Paulina’s command.  This scene is one of those Shakespearean pieces that is always a masterpiece on stage, and this time is no different. Like the rest of Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale, it is both moving and magical, and I must confess left me with a watery eye.

Moving and magical. 


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