With the season turning and the nights drawing-in, Paul Miller’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s genre hopping play could not be more timely. The Winter’s Tale may not be one of his most well know, and I’ll admit to having a limited familiarity with it, but it proves to be the perfect choice for Crucible’s Autumn program.
King of Sicily Leontes seems to have it all: A beautiful wife in Hermione, a son growing up to be a fine young prince, and a lifelong friend in the shape of Bohemia’s King Polixenes. However, when his jealousy and paranoid delusions begin to take over, Polixenes has to flee whilst his pregnant wife is locked-up in prison. The birth of a daughter does nothing to clear his head, banishing her to a far-off place. Loss shakes him out of his madness, but the damage has been done. Roll forward the clock, and whilst Leontes still lives in self-castigation, Polixenes’s son appears to have found love in the unlikely guise of a (mysteriously wealthy) shepherd’s daughter, but is all as it first seems?
I went in purposely knowing very little of the story, and for the first hour of the production is slightly on the dry side, albeit very well acted and with the beautiful dialogue we come to expect from the Bard. However, it suddenly takes a sharp turn towards the comic with the introduction of common swindler Autolycus (played by Keir Charles) and the young shepherd (Patrick Walshe McBride). There are great performances from all the main players, but along with Eva Feiler (Dorcas/Emilia), these two steal the show from under the noses of the more senior cast.
After the interval, the tone lightens, and for a while you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve returned to a separate play (more raucous Comedy than Tragedy in the same vein as A Midsummer Night’s Dream), until the final Acts reign it in and draw matters to a close. There is a minimalist approach to the set design and lighting, which perfectly mirrors the nature of the play itself.
Whilst The Winter’s Tale may not be one of Shakespeare’s most lauded works, Paul Miller’s staging is brilliantly realised and makes a great night of theatrical entertainment.
The Winter’s Tale is on at the Crucible until 2nd November.