MINI-REVIEW – The Winter’s Tale
This will only be the briefest of posts as it’s late and a school night.
This evening I headed out with two friends I do not see frequently enough to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, to see The Winter’s Tale by Northern Broadsides – three firsts in one evening!
Though I rarely spend any time there, I’ve a real soft spot for Huddersfield – the people I’ve worked with are lovely; one of my favourite book clubbers (not that I have favourites, you understand – she’s just awesome) comes in to us from the great Field of Hudders and – most important – whenever l’ve gotten lost in the car (happens frequently), it’s never been a heartache to get back on the right track again.
The Lawrence Batley Theatre only enhanced that feeling of good will. It’s a beautiful converted Methodist Chapel with a strong atmosphere of the past. And creepy pillar faces!!! Check ’em out!
As noted above, this was also my first time at a Northern Broadside production. In the past, when hanging out with talented arty types, I’ve heard about this group and their director Barrie Rutter and their unique interpretations of classical works. And of course, I was here in 2005, when the world welcomed a northern Doctor Who for the first time – so I appreciate the significance of their work –
“Northern voices, doing classical work in non-velvet spaces”
Having said that, I can’t admit to it having the same impact on me (as I joked to my friends – every play that I see here has English accents!). However, recently – while attending the Kilkenny Arts Festival, I had the great pleasure of seeing Richard and the Henry’s performed as one production – Druid Shakespeare – by Druid theatre company. This play comprised of Irish actors, using Irish accents and the two lead parts (the Henry’s) were both played by women. This was very unusual for me and defiantly raised a couple of interesting interpretations and questions!
So clearly, it’s my season for seeing Shakespeare in a new light!
The Winter’s Tale – though a remarkable play – is never one that I’ve had a strong personal connection to. It’s so strange, the entire first half is dour speech after horrifying violence followed by straight up misery and another monologue. The second half in marked contrast has songs and many more comedy elements…so I did wonder how it would actually appear on the stage.
To be honest, my first impressions were not convincing. Thematically, it’s also a very odd story. A king goes mad with jealousy and destroys his family. Unlike Othello; this darkness is entirely internally motivated and seemed to appear and fade according to impossible to fathom factors. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic (though the women fare far better than their male counterparts in not being utterly arrogant tosspots *on top* of behaving really really badly). Oh the actors were wonderful – every word reverberated and connected with the audience. However, the sparse set was rarely used and I wondered whether a lack of movement was a characteristic of ‘roving’ productions – a reaction to never being sure of the stage or set up next to be tackled.
The second half however, was a different story altogether. Bright, colourful costumes and set pieces were mixed with musical numbers and even a spot of (Irish?) dancing! The stage went from being a backdrop to a vibrant space – certainty an effective way of showing we’d changed location as well as time period. An audience – just put through the emotional wringer – was suddenly laughing aloud at various antics, gestures and glances and toe tapping along to the songs. I mean the plot continued…just in a radically different way. Certainly I felt that I had a much better sense of Northern Broadsides – the company – than I had from the first half.
Though everyone in this ensemble pulled together near seamlessly; there were a few standouts. Ruth Alexander Rubin was superb as the loyal and loquacious Paulina – the only person across the play who spoke any sense. She was just tremendous and I hope to see her in *anything* again soon. Mike Hugo as Time and Autolycus was probably a very easy standout, with his character in the second half having so much to do and the charisma and presence to get away with it all. Nevertheless, Hugo never seemed to rest and his face and body language responded to various actions, even if his role was of lesser importance. While he was visible, my eyes followed him. For that matter, Jessica Dyas and Lauryn Redding played off one another so very well and provided some much needed levity with aplomb.
I’ve really enjoyed my night and look forward to seeing more productions by the northern powerhouse company and in this beautiful spot!