The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

Dates and Venue 19 November - 13 December 2009 @ 8:00pm Studio 58, Langara College

Reviewer Jane Penistan

This delightful romance is one of Shakespeare's later plays. It is the tale of a husband's paranoid suspicion of his wife and his own boyhood friend and the consequences of that mistaken suspicion. As this is both a comedy and a romance there is a fairy tale ending.

Anita Rochon has elected to bring this charming play into the 20th century, transporting the mythical kingdom of Sicilia to the 1950's of a Russia-like country of speculation and intrigue and the pleasant, bucolic Bohemia of a Canadian-like summer celebration of the 1970's. This time and space exchange works well and gives both the director and the cast much room for inventiveness. The Woodstock influenced second act becomes a showcase for much energetic farce and comedy, with not a little singing, dancing and physical theatre.

The production owes much to the composer/musical director, Alison Jenkins. The music throughout sets the ambience for the scenes, both in Sicilia and the merry making Bohemia, where freedom and warmth are celebrated in energetic dancing and full-voiced joyful singing.

Christopher David Gauthier's set is simple and ingenious giving the actors plenty of space and the audience clear sightlines and a wide view of the stage. The changing of venues during the action is well managed without breaking the flow of the performance. The excellent lighting of Jonathan Ryder enhances and emphasizes the different locations of incidents with unnoticeable subtlety.

While the costumes of the urban or court characters are appropriate, and most of the women of the Sicilian court are well dressed, with Hermione having beautiful dresses, those of the Bohemians are mostly ill chosen and some, even distasteful. The over emphasis of the ignorance and lack of discrimination of the shepherds' clothes is particularly noticeable, and the pitiful disguises of the king, Leontes and Antigonus are not up to the standard of this production. On the other hand, the clothes and props of Autolycus are clever, ingenious and well used.

The ensemble work of the whole company is excellent. Among the large cast, many actors appear as several different characters, all distinguishably different. Outstanding among the company is the work of Benjamin Elliott as Autolycus. This talented actor has an innate sense of timing and an immediate rapport with the audience His is a most polished and professional performance and brings much humour to the play. He is clever enough not to overplay his role while extracting the last bit of fun from it.

As the jealous Leontes, Mike Wasko develops his paranoia well in the first act, and manages his change to a chastened and wiser man with maturity and age. Hermione (Melissa Dionisio) manages her difficult scenes of tragedy and suffering to arouse the sympathy of the audience. Her final meeting with her long lost daughter is sensitively done. Kirsty Provan, as Paulina, realizes all her potential as a courageous and outspoken woman, and remains steely and adamant to the last. There is little real warmth between Leontes and Paulina but an affinity of old friends.

Florizel (Graeme McComb) is a charming young man, with the self-assured demeanour of a young man of wealth and position. No wonder the innocent Perdita falls for him! As Perdita, Gili Roskies grows up from an innocent country lass to a well-behaved and intelligent young lady. This a very nice development of character, but why oh why, when all the other rustics manage to get new clothes, is she condemned to an unbecoming and unsuitable" little girl dress" to the end of the play?

Some of the fairy tale magic is lost in this updated production, but this is the 21st century and the old fashioned ideas of faith, courage repentance and redemption still shine through this presentation in this materialistic and belligerent age. It's a really good evening's entertainment and Studio 58 should be proud of this large and versatile company.

© 2009 Jane Penistan