The Winter's Tale

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

Guildford Shakespeare company aim to produce Shakespeare which gives their audience "a unique and visceral theatrical experience" and more accessible than most people found it during 'schooldays'. There is plenty to experience in Act 1with a King who gives in to insane and unfounded jealousy, plans to poison his best friend and imprisons his heavily pregnant wife for the imagined sin of carrying his friend's child there's nothing at all lighthearted here. To cap it all, when the child is born he demands that it be abandoned and left to die. Not a happy man, and even less so when his own son dies too, but then he isn’t even sure it was his son.

Gideon Turner is King Leontes and his pertinent expressions tell us all we need to know about his state of mind, as do those of Robert Mountford’s Polixenes, concerned, worried and puzzled by the change in his friend.

Sarah Gobran as wife Hermione gets off the worst and has to suffer the most change in station. From a carefree, confident and happy queen, she next appears in her prison rags, a stark contrast to her royal robes and sprawls before the king, humiliated and defeated as she pleads for her newborn baby.

Her moving and impassioned plea, swearing she would rather die than live without her child, deserves centre stage, but with a walkway dividing two separate stages ‘centre’ would be floor level. The moving platform they have constructed to overcome this has to be clipped/unclipped by hand and manually pushed into position. I can’t say I liked it, but I can see the reason for it.

Director Caroline Devlin has changed the original venues to Victorian England and India which have similar styles to the originals, one a formal court and the other simply rural and carefree. This not only works very well, but gives an excuse to include two dancers, Heidi Harris and Shalini Bhalia from the Just Jhoom! dance group, beginning the change of mood from tragedy to joyous celebration which has brought us to act 2.

Sixteen years have passed and winter has changed to spring. The abandoned baby was found and adopted by a kindly shepherd (I did wish someone had thought to feed it) and now has grown into a beautiful girl Perdita (Selma Brooks) who has fallen in love with Polixenes’ son Florizel (Imran Momen).

In this carefree land, in the process of celebrating a sheep sheering ceremony and with two attractive young lovers, the spirits lift immediately. The dancing is sensuous and vibrant and much appreciated by the vagabond Autolycus who tries to join in.

This is Chris Porter, hugely enjoying himself, and thoroughly entertaining us with his outrageous antics and his habit of lifting valuables from unsuspecting revellers and hiding them in unmentionable places about his person. His taste in dress is worthy of mention too. Extraordinary to say the least.

He carries the comedy element almost by himself, although I did like the double act between Harmage Singh Kalirai and Shamir Dawood as the Old Shepherd and his son Clown.

Accessibility is not quite so evident in the production as is usual. It was not clear why the young prince had died—and was the casket of gold left beside the baby really enough to prove her identity?—but with such a lot to fit into the second act it would have taken another hour or two of performance and, after all, perhaps I just missed the references.

Matt Pinches has given up his comedy persona this time and does sterling duty as the king’s advisor Camillo, but one of the most important characters in the play, and almost overlooked, is Tracy Brabin as Paulina. It is she who can talk to Leontes almost as an equal and she who is the saviour of the situation making a happy ending possible, but that you have to see.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor