As is its custom, October has seen off our lucky-dip autumnal climate for another year, leaving us once again to months of lightless mornings and drizzly evenings: the seeding of wintry gloom. So, a fiery, hearty take on Shakespeare’s most popular tragicomedy arrives is just the ticket.
When the King of Sicilia, Leontes (Vince Leigh) plays host to boyhood friend Polixenes (a subtle, vulpine James Buller), a moment of misread behaviour ignites the fires of jealous rage. The resulting sequence of events moves through the charged psycho-drama of marital crisis before swapping such dark preoccupations almost completely for altogether lighter, comedic fare. Suspicion and insecurities, rekindled love and burgeoning romance, disguises and a great big bear all feature; a tricky undertaking for any theatre company.
Thankfully, with terrific performances all around from Simon Godwin’s fluid direction, the Schtanhaus and Nuffield Theatre troupe navigate the play’s testing, undulating tones effortlessly
Miriam Nabarro’s sparse, 40’s inspired re-setting of Sicilia - all flagstones, plush sofas and vintage champagne - gives Leigh’s dynamic Leontes plentiful space. His superb Varsity Sophisticate practically dissolves in full view stage-right as - increasingly spirit-sodden and volatile - jealous paranoia supplants reason.
However, while Amanda Ryan’s Queen Hermione is a study in coy elegance and charm - evidenced particularly when playing next to Buller - the stand-out performance here comes from Golda Rosheuvel. This physically slight actress becomes such a storm of hair-raising ferocity as Paulina that the Djanogly’s stage seems miniscule whenever she appears. Seemingly unsatisfied with being the centre of attention just the once though, she doubles as the Shepherd when the action relocates and poaches most of the laughs too.
A carousing, quasi-South Pacific parodying Bohemia provides the necessary refreshment when Polixenes flees there, before a return to Sicilia for the sensibly-judged final scenes - which manage to avoid the easy slip into the cavity inducing syrup occasionally seen in productions elsewhere
Never-less-than utterly engaging theatre, this punchy - yet intelligent - production rubs warmth into such shivery despondency, making it feel something closer to seasonal cheer.
A Winter's Tale was performed at the Djanogly Theatre by the Schtanhous & Nuffield Theatre Southampton in association with Headlong from Tuesday 20 to Wednesday 21 October 2009.