A Shakespearean dramedy with a killer soundtrack and quality performances.
By Narelle Wood
Set amongst the greenery of Central Park, the Melbourne Shakespeare Company presents its interpretation of The Winter’s Tale.
The tale begins, as many Shakespearean tragedies do, with a husband – in this case Leontes (David Meadows) – accusing his pregnant wife Hermione (Melanie Gleeson) – of infidelity. Leontes decides to kill Polixenes (Anton Berezin), the apparent object of Hermoine’s affections but Camillo (Bridget Sweeny) warns Polixenes, and he Camillo escape to Bohemia. Leontes takes this as confirmation of Hermione’s treachery. Struck with grief Leontes’ son dies, then Hermione dies, and Leontes commands that Antigonus (Caleb Whittaker) burn the newly born child. Cleomenes (Adam Canny) and Dion (Jessica Barton) arrive, rebuke Leontes, declaring his accusations incorrect. Meanwhile, Antigonus, who has a conscience, hides the child in Bohemia, before exiting being pursued by bear, never to be seen again. Time passes and the tone shifts to something more comedic and more lively. There are people in disguise, secret plots for marriage, and the workings of the manipulative thief Autolycus (also played by Whittaker). All parties are reunited, and, as is the case for many Shakespearean plays – for those who survive, all is forgiven.
The performances are great, from Emma Austin’s initial jovial interactions with the crowd all the way through to the final bow. Tref Gare is hilarious as the shepherd and May Jasper brings a whole lot of sass to her performance as Time. The vocals, predominantly performed by Jasper, Canny and Barton are great, and Erin McIntosh’s portrayal of Perdita has just the right amount of sweet naivety you would expect. In fact, the show is extremely well cast; Florizel (Jackson Peele) is charming but not smarmy and Paulina (Elizabeth Slattery) is in equal parts devout to Leontes and to Hermione. Andrew Dang rounds out the cast as Lord Hampton, and like many of the other actors, seamlessly transitions between a few different parts and into the band when necessary.
Melbourne Shakespeare Company have done a remarkable job of hitting the key points of what can be a rather long and convoluted narrative. There are parts of the storyline that are a little uncomfortable in modern times; Leontes’ power to condemn people to death based on falsehoods he created and puts too much faith in, rather than actually listening to Hermione speaks not only to the time the play was written, but how hard it still can be to question those in power today. The King’s mostly unchecked power aside, the company finds many a comedic moment to lighten the mood, helped by ‘Time’ – the singing trio – and some song and dance numbers that set tone and provide insight into character. Artistic Director Jennifer Sarah Dean has included other details, such as character names on costumes, small changes in set and character accents, to help the audience follow the storyline and keep track of who’s dead, as well as the passage of time.
This is a fun and charming production, and a good introduction for anyone not familiar with or unsure about Shakespeare. It won’t suit the tastes of any uptight traditionalists with the musical numbers and some witty modern interludes amongst the dialogue, but I thought it was a delightful way to spend some time on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The social distancing has been extremely well thought through and the outdoor location makes this a perfect re-introduction to theatre. Pack a picnic, add some sunscreen for the matinees and a rain jacket no matter what, because well it is Melbourne, and sit back and enjoy watching a Shakespearean dramedy with a killer soundtrack and quality performances.
Venue: Central Park, Malvern
Season: Until the 20th March