A magical and captivating tale

The Winter's Tale, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, October 5-7; Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, October 13-17.THIS is a skilfully staged, well acted and powerful production of a play at once tragic, comedic and magical.

Mark Crossley

The Winter's Tale, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, October 5-7; Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, October 13-17.

THIS is a skilfully staged, well acted and powerful production of a play at once tragic, comedic and magical. The audience is plunged from the horror of Leontes' court, which is riven by his insane jealousy, before being flung onto the shores of the dream-like world of Bohemia.

Such is the contrast between the countries and their atmospheres that when the action switches back to dark Sicilia it seems as though we have just woken to find ourselves back in a maddening and real world.


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Shakespeare's dream-like tale of jealousy and redemption begins in Sicilia, where King Leontes convinces himself that queen Hermione has been unfaithful with his best friend, Bohemian ruler Polixenes.

Vince Leigh puts in a hugely engaging performance as Leontes, his powerful soliloquising drawing us into a claustrophobic, tormented.

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He is Othello but with his own internal Iago, taunting him to greater paranoia and further outrages against his own family.

Soft lights and tinkling champagne glasses quickly give way to a starker atmosphere as Leontes' delusions lead the action into a spiral of violence and injustice.

The tragic noose of the first half of the play is tightened, misery being layered upon misery as the queen is condemned, a child dies and courtiers plead with their tyrant to change course.

Amanda Ryan gives a moving, captivating performance as wronged Hermione, haughty but full of grief at her trial - an electrifying scene, followed by shocking violence during Paulina's attack on Leontes.

So it is a huge relief when warm light bathes the stage and Bohemian shepherds appear, completely changing the mood.

Bohemia is a land of delights - Golda Rosheuvel's Old Shepherdess, lively country dancing and feasting.

John Hodgkinson threatens to steal the show as slippery conman Antigonus, a convincing drunkard who transforms into three characters in one, including a hilarious Noel Coward-like, fake courtier.

All too soon we are back in Sicilia but this time for a perfectly-paced denouement, as the rest of the cast, who appear as rapt as the audience, are introduced to a life-like statue of Hermione.

I studied this play for A Level, but until this week did not realise how moving and captivating it could be in the right hands.

Audiences at Bury St Edmunds' Theatre Royal will have the same treat from Tuesday to Saturday.

Mark Crossley

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