Review: The Winters Tale

William Want 23 February 2022
Image Credit: The ADC Theatre, Coco Wheeler

As one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, I went into watching The Winter’s Tale with no idea about what I was about to see. What I didn’t know I was going to see was one of the best things I have ever seen on stage, in Cambridge or not.

Immediately after entering the auditorium, you are greeted with a fantastic set, complete with painted stars, perfectly encapsulating that mystical witch vibe, with a white gauze curtain and podium. Set designer Cody Knight has pulled out all the stops for this production, with each added element fitting the aesthetic of the show perfectly and elevating the action onstage. This is reinforced with Ramisa Hassan’s beautiful costume design, and Kirsty Turnbull and Cat Strong’s striking make-up design. A personal favourite of mine was India Lewis’ costume, complete with black lipstick, and Temitope Idowu’s glittery eye makeup. Usually, this is where I would say ‘this was great, but…’, but I really cannot think of anything that would go against this statement!

The themes and concepts of the show were immaculately planned and realised, and, while I couldn’t work out what tied the story of The Winter’s Tale to the circus, it was pulled off with such conviction I couldn’t imagine it in any other setting. The mood of each scene was determined by the instrumental music during the transitions, which ranged from theatre organs to prepared pianos to Korean samulnori percussion, all handpicked and recorded by theatre newcomer Alex Wrathall, who also composed three delightful ditties for the Clown to sing, in typical Shakespearean fashion, although I do wish more was made out of these musical interludes, and that the cues were a tiny bit louder.

Each scene transition was covered by a virtuosic display of gymnastics and dance, with specialists Mostin Hu, Eilidh Brough, Megan Rigabar, Claire Forey, and Ruyuan Yang bringing mind-bending moves and manoeuvres to the ADC stage. The dance and choreography in this production was spectacular, with special mention to Idowu, whose one-off twisting and turning left my mouth agape. If only more was made of her talent! Jack Ward’s Hermione was fantastic, especially the final scene, which had elements of Vogueing and NYC Ball culture. The virtuosity of the cast when it comes to movement does make me wish there were more movement sequences, especially in a circus setting – the distinction between the dancer and the actor was very clear cut, and it would have been fun to see these categories blend more.

With The Winter’s Tale, we can see a common problem with some Shakespeare plays, especially those that are not as well known: at some points, especially during the first half, there was clumsy verse recitation at times and rushed delivery left some elements of the plot difficult to decode. However, as the actors relaxed in the second half, line delivery got much clearer, and I suspect the issues found were largely first-night nerves. Jack Medlin’s Florizel was incredibly personable, with a relaxed delivery of this ancient verse, making it sound very natural, and getting many laughs from the audience. The second half was much more comic, with brilliant scenes between Coco Wheeler and Medlin, especially one involving underwear…

Lucia Bowers, credited as Assistant Director on Camdram, put in an incredibly impressive performance as the Old Shepherd – as an understudy, her stage presence and knowledge of the text was fantastic, and captured every scene she was in, riffing perfectly off the actors onstage. Especially during the second half, we could really tell how much fun the actors were having in this play, which gave the whole show a very professional air. This was helped by Ilona Sell’s well-balanced blocking and set pieces, including a scene with hanging ribbons and the ghostly presence of Jack Ward. Every moment of the script has been exploited to its apex, and Sell has created a very exciting and convincing interpretation of Shakespeare’s world, which helps this unfamiliar play go down a storm.

The Winter’s Tale also introduced us to a host of fantastic and well-spoken actors, even in smaller parts – Harry Dixon-Spain’s Servant gave me a smirk every time he was on stage, with an affected English accent not unlike another famous Shakespearean Butler. Most times, the lines came naturally, especially in Aria Baker’s Polixenes, who seemed to be having conversations instead of reciting verse, which was a very welcome characterisation. Idowu’s Camillo was very authoritative, and Maria Telnikoff gave a nervous and jittery jailer, whose exaggerated characterisation perfectly complemented the other actors onstage.

All in all, The Winter’s Tale was a joyous, sparky, and inventive romp through Shakespeare’s world and the life of a circus. The ableist danger zone that is the theatre aesthetic was perfectly navigated, which gives us a very enjoyable night out at the theatre – just brush up on the plot before you go!

5/5 stars.