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I saw this production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Stratford, on 12th February 2013.  The show that I saw was actually a public understudy run.  This meant that some actors played more than one part (and in one instance, one part was played by two actors).  This is no criticism, and was certainly not confusing.  The public understudy runs are a great way to see a full production for an extremely low price (£5.00 to non-RSC members; £2.50 for RSC members).

The Winter’s Tale is a story of love and misplaced revenge.  It was originally classed as a comedy, but is not now always considered so, although there are some very funny moments in the latter half of the play.  Briefly, King Leontes of Sicilia (wrongly) suspects that his pregnant wife Hermione has been unfaithful with the King’s friend, Polixenes of Bohemia.  He punishes his wife in the most horrible way, but is thrust into despair when he realises that his wife and friend were innocent of any wrong-doing.  Having banished their baby daughter as soon as she was born (believing at the time that she was Polixenes’ daughter, she grows up unaware of her royal heritage, believing that she is the daughter of the shepherd who found her as a baby and brought her up as his own.  However, she falls in love with Florizel – who is the son of King Polixenes…..

Considering that the cast and crew had just four days to prepare for this production, and that everyone was playing a different part to that which they normally play (the understudies are all part of the main cast), this production was excellent.  I was particularly impressed with Phil Snowden, who played the dual roles of Antigonus (the subject of the famous stage direction, “Exit pursued by a bear”) and the old Shepherd, who brings up the baby he finds.  He was distinctive in each role, and provided a lot of humour as the shepherd, aided by his character’s son, the young Shepherd (the two shepherds’ first names are not revealed), played by Kieran Knowles.  Duncan Wisbey, who played Autolycus, a roguish pedlar (and who plays Antigonus in the main cast) was also superb and extremely humorous.  Bethan Walker who in this production played both Hermione and Perdita was very impressive, and I really felt for her Hermione.

This is not my favourite Shakespeare – in some parts of the first half, it is actually quite a disturbing play, with Leontes becoming so doubting of his pregnant wife, and actually punching her in the stomach at one point.  The second half was much lighter, with much of the aforementioned humour to relieve the tension, and the story is rounded off nicely.

The staging was impressive, with a scene of bohemian decadence to show Leontes’ palace.  There was also some considerable use of CGI, which worked well, and for some reason, a huge sort of water tower, the reason for which was unfathomable, but nonetheless it somehow worked.

Overall, I enjoyed the production and thought it was very well done.  Another triumph for the RSC!

(For more information about this production, or the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)

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