Monday 18 February 2019

The Winter's Tale - Review

National Theatre, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Justin Audibert
Firected by Ruth Mary Johnson

The cast of The Winter's Tale

For a half-term offering, the National Theatre’s Dorfman stage hosts the return of The Winter’s Tale, in a production that is stripped down and recommended for children of 8 and over. 

And indeed there is much that should commend this tale to a younger audience.  A wicked father, an idyllic love story, and an enchanted happy ending. But Justin Audibert’s adaptation fillets too much of the prose. The early deaths of Hermione and Mamillius are but barely explained footnotes to the Audibert narrative - and whilst occasional moments of puppetry grab the attention of the kids in the audience, there's a massive opportunity that is missed. Shakespeare’s (and perhaps the entire English canon's) most famous stage direction “Exit pursued by a bear”, presaging Antigonus’ grisly demise, is reduced here to little more than an offstage sound effect - heck, there’s more of a bear on the show’s promotional material that teasingly invites the audience to "watch out for pursuing bears". Watch out? There's not a grizzly to be seen and any youngsters who may have been led to expect more of an ursine treat will feel understandably cheated

While most of the performances are charming, director Ruth Mary Johnson should have made more of Joseph Adelakun’s Leontes. The king’s cruelty and misogyny are complex themes meriting more careful exploration, even in a show for a younger audience, than are afforded here.

The stagecraft in the round is imaginative, the music (if not the disco beat), a delight and, to be fair, at only an hour in length the timing is spot-on too. Layla, my 8 yo co-reviewer rated The Winter’s Tale as good.

Runs until 21st February
Photo credit: Ellie Kurtz

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