THE WINTER’S TALE
11/06/2016 - 18/06/2016
Jealousy kills – Love heals
A tale set in the two very different worlds of wintry, formal Sicilia and warm, rustic Bohemia. The Winter’s Tale mixes the powerful emotional intensity of King Leontes of Sicilia’s court with the simplicity and engaging humanity of the Bohemian countryside to create a wonderfully absorbing story that touches the heart and the funny bone in equal measure.
Featuring Unitec’s Year 3 Acting Students
Venue: Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland
Saturday, 11 June; Tuesday, 14 June; Thursday, 16 June; Saturday, 18 June – 7pm
Tickets: www.iTICKET.co.nz (09) 361 1000
Cost: $15 Adults, $10 Concession (unwaged, senior), $5 Students
Saale Ilaua: Leontes/Clown
Nina Teauraki: Hermione/Mopsa/Bear
Marianne Infante: Mamillius/Chorus/Perdita
Whitney O’Connor-Palmer Paulina/Dorcas
Anna Thomas: Camilla/Gaoler/Chorus
Aaron Richardson: Polixenes/Chorus/Mariner
Lucas Haugh: Servant/Florizel
George Shead: Antigonus/Old Shepherd
Matt Smith: Emile/Autolycus
Director: Paul Gittins
Set Design: Paul Gittins & Michael Craven
Costume Design: Joan James, Renee Blackwell-Vano, Ana Fernandez Taboada, Rose Morgan, Rhiannon Prime, Kellen Worger
Lighting Design: Paul Bennett
Sound Design: Zach Howells
Scenic Painter: Janet Williamson
Production Manager: Michael Craven & Emily Johnson
Technical Manager: Michael Craven & Peter Dexter
Stage Manager: Vicki Slow
A/Stage Manager: Myah Zhu
Lighting Op: Michael Goodwin
Sound OP: Brandon Lunny
1hr 30m approx
Incredible interactive physicality and a rich psychology
Review by Lexie Matheson 13th Jun 2016
Entering the UNITEC Theatre always has the potential to amaze and, despite looking forward to this rare opportunity to hear The Winter’s Tale and anticipating something really special, I am still taken aback on arrival – in this case by the music chosen as a bridge between the cold, wet winter’s evening, a warm front of house welcome and the interior performing space all cosily tucked up and invisible behind secretively drawn curtains. What better choice as entr’acte to The Winter’s Tale than rich, melodic Baroque sounds, dense with the romantic opulence of violins, flutes and just a hint of the anticipated courtly elegance to come? It does it for me anyway, and I bask in the pleasure of it for a good ten minutes until I am thoroughly cooked and ready for the play. I suspect we have Blaise Clotworthy and his sensitive genius to thanks for this as he is listed in the programme as Musical Director.
The Winter’s Tale was originally published in the First Folio of 1623 along with the season’s companion piece As You Like It which plays on alternate nights and with a different cast. Often considered one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’, a group of works characterised ‘by a complex and ambiguous tone, which shifts violently between dark, psychological drama and more straightforward comic material’ and which were all written between the late 1590s and Shakespeare’s death in 1616. This would place it alongside All’s Well that Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure but, while there are certainly similarities, the same can be also be said of the plays labelled ‘late romances’, in particular The Tempest, Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Cymbeline.
My personal view is that these are the tragicomedies of Shakespeare’s maturity, produced when he was less desperate to earn a living and more likely to write simply for his own pleasure. However we choose to define and label The Winter’s Tale, it’s a great play but one with only a spasmodic performance history, largely, I believe, because it requires an actor of incredible ability and range to play Leontes, a director who really understands the psychology of the play, and a bear. This production aces the first two requirements and has a mirth-filled bash at the latter.
Ever the magpie and always on the lookout for someone else’s plot to improve on, Shakespeare nabbed Robert Greene’s pastoral romance Pandosto but, for once, he doesn’t change much. He even keeps the sixteen year hiatus which allows us to leap from baby Perdita to teenage Perdita, and for the rest of the characters to age and grow up a bit. To fill the gap he has Chorus – often played as Old Father Time but mercifully not in Gittins’ production – suggest that we have “slept between”, introduces us to Polixenes’ son Prince Florizel who we haven’t to that point met, and feeds us, somewhat apologetically, into the comic roughhouse of Act IV. He also permits Hermione to live and even to be reconciled with, in my view, an undeserving Leontes thereby sanctioning a somewhat happy ending. Hellenistic order is, of course, restored.
Most Shakespeare scholars believe the play to have been written in 1610 or 1611 with preference given to the latter due to a supposed reference to Ben Johnson’s Oberon, the Faery Prince, a masque which features twelve dancing men and which parallels a similar dance in Shakespeare’s play. Internal reference to tamed polar bears in the Johnson work have been dated at around 1611 but these connections are tenuous, but again, only in my view.
It’s worth noting that the unattributed photographs on the programme covers for As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale are quite superb.
Right from the outset it is clear that this is to be a stunning production on many levels. It’s always complex for adults to play children and I have seen some simply awful examples, often in ballet but in theatre shows as well, so I am fascinated to see what Marianne Infante will make of the boy child Mamillius, heir to the throne of Sicilia, and in the pairing of that role with Chorus (Time) and the teenaged Perdita.
In a word, Infante is fabulous. I so believe in her Mamillius and the beautiful relationships her child forges with all the adults that his death of a broken heart shocks, not only at the time it is reported, but it then resonates throughout the play and colours my view of Leontes’ somewhat undeserved revivification in Act V Scene 3. What makes this performance so very special is the influence it has on the action throughout the play and the manner in which Mamillius’ absence during the final scene steals some of the gloss of what might otherwise be an over-simplistic happy outcome.
It has always been my view that without a subtle and skilled actor to play Leontes, The Winter’s Tale runs the risk of oscillating between a shouting match and maudlin self-pity, neither of which does either the character or the play justice. Even when such an actor is available – and that’s rare enough – the play needs a director of immense skill and human understanding to pull all the threads together in a way that leaves us with some small amount of liking for the play’s hero as well as an understanding of the complex psychological web that Shakespeare has woven. This production has both, and for no other reason than this – and there are plenty – you should see this exceptional work.
The play opens in breath taking fashion with a couple of beautifully executed magic tricks which take us directly into Mamillius’ world and keep us there. There are moments when Leontes (Saale Ilaua) takes the time when not the centre of the verbal fisticuffs to show us, with some subtlety, that he’s noticed the bond that has developed, largely at his instigation, between his heavily pregnant wife Hermione (Nina Teauraki) and his best mate and King of Bohemia, Polixenes (Aaron Richardson). It’s not by chance that Polixenes’ visit has lasted a full nine months.
As Leontes’ jealousy grows, he becomes icy and more and more dangerous which is a great actor choice because this draws us in whereas anger would have pushed us away. At his early misogynistic best in the section where the imagery becomes overtly sexual, the “cuckold’s horn”, or “that man that does not think, my wife is slippery” through to “my wife’s a hobby-horse, deserves a name as rank as any flax-wench that puts to before her troth-plight” – Ilaua revels in his own self-hatred.
Camilla (Anna Thomas) – Camillo in the original but cross gendered in this – stands strong against her King and pays the price. Thomas is great in this complex role and provides Ilaua with plenty to rail against. It’s powerful stuff and I learn a new respect for the term “my dread lord” when the lord to be dreaded is this Leontes.
Hermione is tried for adultery and found innocent by Apollo’s Oracle in a scene of extraordinary dark beauty. The use of magnificent Munch-like masks adds a threatening aura to the trial but even they are of no use as Leontes dismisses the masked and Godlike court and pronounces Hermione guilty anyway. It’s nail-biting, edge-of-the seat stuff through which Teauraki maintains all the dignity that the scene requires, leaving the excellent Paulina (Whitney O’Connor-Palmer) to do all the work.
It’s powerful theatre and the timely news that Mamillius has died is the last straw. Leontes recognises what he’s done, his dynasty is destroyed and his epiphany is earned. My only niggle is a tiny feminist one and it’s only relevant if you want it to be. The women speak of a shallowness that women have, of over-talking, and they do so as though this is true. I would have liked to hear them play against these lines because there is little in the play that suggests that this is actually what Shakespeare thought – but that’s all one, it’s a director/actor choice, not mine to make and, as I said, it’s a modern quibble after all.
We hear of “things dead and things newborn” and we are shipped to the shores of Bohemia – silly Shakespeare: Bohemia has no coastline – and the madness that is the death of Antigonus (George Shead) at the ravenous jaws and paws of a theatrical bear.
Perdita (Marianne Infante) takes us through the sixteen years that have passed and suddenly we’re up to speed without a glitch – or an hourglass – and buried in rustic Bohemia in sheep-shearing season. Perdita is, herself, the mistress of the feast and me meet her swain, who is none other than Polixenes’ son Florizel (Lucas Haugh), and the grey matter starts to predict what the end of these intersecting journeys might just be.
Both actors play the love match beautifully until the issue of parents comes to the fore with the arrival at the party of Polixenes and his sidekick Camilla, each suitably disguised. We’ve already been exposed to Shakespeare’s simplistic understanding of disguise through the device of Matt Smith’s excellent Autolycus, the tinker, whose honesty by-pass is working for him to the max.
There are some wonderful musical moments, in particular, “Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year, for the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale” which leads straight into the delicious “lark, that tirra-lirra chants, with heigh, with heigh, the thrush and the jay, are summer songs for me and my aunts while we lie tumbling in the hay.” It’s all warm and fluffy until Polixenes and Camilla come clean about who they are and the world of the lovers comes tumbling down around their ears.
Fortunately these lovers are smarter than their elders and they make haste to Leontes court in Sicilia and throw themselves on his mercy. He’s been meditating for sixteen years so he has learned a new softness so he listens to the young ’uns and the truth comes out.
Polixenes arrives with Camilla and they’re brought up to speed in the time it takes to deliver a few short lines in perfect metre and then we’re ready for the big moment that we know about even if the characters don’t. It’s an absolute bitch of a scene and often stretches audience credibility to an extreme but that is certainly not the case in this fine production: quite the opposite. Gittins’ thoughtful direction allows the scene to play at its own emotional pace and it’s perfectly timed.
Hermione is brought to wondrous – and totally believable – life, and cast and audience are equally and suitably entranced. I cry – I feel no shame in this – because the evening has been the most complete theatre experience I’ve had in a long time – and with such a complex and difficult play to boot. In awe, are words that come to mind.
Every actor has a turn that’s worthy of note, some more than one. Matt Smith’s Autolycus is sublime relaxed roguery and George Shead’s Old Shepherd is splendid. Lovers aren’t that easy to bring to life to but Lucas Haugh’s handsome Florizel is excellent too. Aaron Richardson is the epitome of Dad and mateness as Polixenes, and the empathic Anna Thomas does fine work as Camilla, standing, as she does, astride both halves of the play.
Whitney O’Connor-Palmer is the subtlest of Paulina’s, leading when she needs to, protecting the secrets of the narrative when necessary and always, always close to the beat at the heart of the story. As Hermione, Nina Teauraki is the heart of the story, no doubt about that. She is motherhood personified and gives us just what we need to love both her and her journey, and the power to make it our own as well.
Marianne Infante is brilliant as Mamillius and creates echoes through the play like a gong. Her Perdita picks up where Mamillius leaves off and both performances are thoroughly memorable.
The evening, however, belongs to Saale Ilaua who brings incredible humanity and craft to the role of Leontes, and wit, warmth and charm to the secondary role of the Young Shepherd, the buffoonish son of George Shead’s empathic Old Shepherd. Ilaua is an extraordinary talent and I predict you’re going to see an awful lot of him over the years to come – but do yourself a favour too, and come and see him in this first.
Wonderful work such as this, with incredible interactive physicality and a rich psychology, doesn’t just happen and the outside eye, perceptive humanity and decades of craft that director Paul Gittins brings to the party are evident on every step of the journey. That’s not to say he controls the action, quite the opposite; he puts the power in the hands of his actors and lets them get on with it – but he gives them the tools to do so and that’s the very best any director can do.
Mamillius says early on that “a sad tale’s best for winter” and he’s probably right. He adds that he has one “of sprites and goblins” but the one we engage with isn’t about the supernatural but is one containing people, real, human people, just like you and me with all our foibles, our warts and our compassion and, if I’m any judge at all, we adore it from magical beginning to life-enhancing end.
See for yourself. You have three more opportunities.
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