I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
Exit pursued by a bear
The Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's most challenging works to translate for the stage. Its eclectic mix of drama and comedy, magic and realism coupled with some of theatre's most difficult staging directions make for an ambitious undertaking. Secret House have managed to pull together a beautifully presented, fairytale like offering that captures a sense of the original magic of Shakespeare's text and celebrates equally the ridiculous and the divine.
The Winter's Tale is a tale of two acts. The first act focuses on the King of Sicily, Leontes' growing jealousy over his pregnant wife, Hermoine's friendship with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes. Much of Act One is made up of serious drama, culminating in Hermoine's trial and condemnation. Act Two, however, is a different story with the addition of a clown, a love story and a magical reunion.
Director Sean O'Riordan has put together a comprehensive and consistent production that stays true to the text and throws in some hilarious moments such as a sequence in which the full cast dance The Nutbush. The set design by Isabel Hudson is simple, big and beautiful and perfectly represents the mythical and wintery themes of the play. Building a static set of this size in the small and intimate Depot Theatre is no mean feat, and that combined with the painted white floor of the theatre completely transforms the venue. Liam O'Keefe's lighting design is mostly up to the challenge of supporting the wintery magic of the story, however doesn't quite hit the mark when it comes to the springtime joy of Act 2.
With such a huge ensemble, it is impossible to call everyone out, but in general the times when the full cast is on stage it's evident that the ensemble are tight, well-rehearsed and hard working. Charles Upton as King Leontes is a commanding figure. His angry jealousy in Act One is a little misdirected and becomes too yelled at times; however his grasp of the repentant, broken man who has lost everything in Act Two is impressive and subtle. Grace Naoum as Hermoine captures the Queen's grace and cleverness wonderfully and draws empathy from the audience as soon as Leontes' jealousy sets in. Alec Ebert puts in a charismatic turn as King Polixenes, charming us in Act One with his witty friendship with Hermoine and making us laugh at his turn as a disguised commoner in Act Two.
Jane Angharad's sunny shepherdess Perdita lights up the stage in Act Two and the actor captures the innocence and joy of this character perfectly. Roger Smith doesn't quite hit the mark as Antigonus and there is quite a casting mismatch with Romney Stanton who plays his gutsy wife Paulina beautifully. Emma Wright has a magical stage presence as Time when she opens the second act; however the delivery of her monologue is slow and disjointed which makes the Shakespearian language difficult to connect with. The standout performance of the show, however, is the remarkable performance of Laura Djanegara as the advisor to both the kings, Camillo. Djanegara's grasp of Shakespeare is as natural and unforced as if it was her natural way of speaking and her acting is wonderfully present and genuine.
At two and a half hours, The Winter's Tale is a long show. At times, in this production it is noticeably long. There are definitely opportunities to tighten up the show as the run continues, but overall Secret House's latest offering is a comprehensive and engaging presentation of one of Shakespeare's lesser-performed works.