Bard on the Beach's Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare


by Ed Farolan

The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Christopher Gaze
Vanier Park, Vancouver
Until September 21, 1997
739-0559 or 280-4444

Academics through the years have branded Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (performed for the first time in 1611, five years before the Bard’s death) a problem play. “Neither Love's Labour's Lost nor this play are among the more often performed plays because they’re much harder to pull off than the more accessible comedies; but we have a mandate to present any and all of Shakespeare’s work”, Director Christopher Gaze said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun.

It is problematic partly because Shakespeare tries to put two plays in one for an already lengthy play (3 hours), and towards the end of the second part, adds too many ingredients, hurrying up the denouement.

But it is truly admirable how Gaze "pulls it off", as he puts it, accepting this difficult challenge and gets his company to put on these difficult problematic plays. And he is doing them with success --and relish, to boot!

The Winter’s Tale is about King Leontes of Sicilia (Mike Stack) who is jealous of King Polixenes of Bohemia (Andrew Wheeler) because Leontes’ wife Hermione (Denyse Wilson) favours Polixenes with her attention during his visit to Sicilia. Driven by suspicions that the Queen has been unfaithful, Leontes imprisons his wife and, thinking that his new-born daughter is Polixenes’, orders the baby to be abandoned in some remote area in Bohemia to die. His wife dies in prison, his young son dies of despair, and Leontes, after destroying his entire family through blind jealousy, dedicates himself to a life of mourning.

After this gruesome and almost unredeemable first act, the play turns into a charming almost magical second act. It is sixteen years later in Bohemia. It is the shepherds’ sheep-shearing feast, and we find out that the beautiful Perdita (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) who was found by shepherds when she was abandoned, is actually the daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Prince Florizel (Anthony Santiago), the son of King Polixenes, falls in love with Perdita against his father’s wishes. The young lovers flee to Sicilia pretending to bring greetings from Polixenes and are warmly received by Leontes. The shepherds who had raised Perdita finally reveal her true identity to the Kings. All is forgiven and Leontes is overjoyed to be reunited with his daughter. For the last big hurrah, Shakespeare borrows the deus ex machina technique of Greek playwright Euripedes and voila, his wife comes back to life for a really happy ending!

It’s laughable, but that’s what comedies are about: sometimes illogical, often absurd.

All in all, the production was flawless. The actors were true Shakesperean actors, with their crystal clear and crisp diction and enunciation. Their timing was perfect, hitting the right notes, most of the time. The choreography particularly the martial arts dance of the satyrs during the shepherds’ feast was wonderful. The costumes were colourful and magnificent: the first act with the purple and other Winter subdued colours, and the second act with the invigorating technicolours of Spring .

As for the actors, watch out for Paulina (Patricia Idlette) and the roguish Autolycus (Peter Anderson) for their comic antics which resulted in laughs and ovations from the audience.

All in all, another A+ for Gaze and company!