The Winter’s Tale, one of the Bard’s rarely performed plays, is the latest offering from Bell Shakespeare, and it is a beautiful visual feast of shadow play, coloured lights and children’s toys. The whole play is set in a charming child’s room with a bed, a dress-up box, toys strewn about and homemade decorations – blue for Mamillius and pink for Perdita – hung from the ceiling.
As expected, the actors all beautifully fill their roles – Leontes (Myles Pollard) is in turn buoyed by rage and crushed by grief, Hermione (Helen Thomson) is gracious and elegant, and Perdita (Liana Cornell) is fresh-faced and chaste.
A few real standouts, however, were Michelle Doake as Paulina, who brings a particular sassiness to the role with some perfectly-timed pauses and a tone of voice not often heard in the Bard’s work; Justin Smith as the young shepherd who is appealingly sweet and dopey; and Myles Pollard, who magically transforms from a king into a hunched old shepherd, complete with a mouth-full-of-loose-teeth mumbling.
Another performance worth a mention is Rory Potter as Mamillius. This iteration of the prince goes far beyond conventional interpretations of the role; after his death, he remains onstage as a sprite to watch the play unfold. Dressed as a tiny wizard in an oversized robe he also acts as stagehand – passing props to other characters and helping them change onstage – listens silently to the monologues and uses his wand to weave the magic required by this play.
It seems a shame that, amidst the whimsical, nostalgic tone of the rest of the play, the heavy-handed singing and dancing scenes felt like an obvious grab for laughs – all the more obvious for the subtle, clever humour that surrounded them. Shakespeare is hard enough to follow when spoken; sung while dancing, it becomes almost impossible.
Overall, though, this reimagining of The Winter’s Tale is enchanting, captivating and fresh. It’s almost worth seeing just for the delightful representation of the classic moment: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”