THE WINTER’S TALE at St George’s Garrison Church
By Reeva Charles
On a glorious summer’s evening Changeling Theatre used a stunning outdoor setting in Woolwich for a production of The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s tale of jealously, grace, reunion and reconciliation.
The evocative bombed-out ruin of St George's Garrison Church and an introductory soundtrack of German electronica set the militaristic tone of the first half of the play as Leontes (Scott Ellis), the jealous king of Sicilia, accuses his loyal pregnant wife Hermione (Jess Nesling) of infidelity with his best friend Polixenes (Nicholas Masters-Waage), king of Bohemia. The paranoid Leontes enlists the reluctant help of his disbelieving court to put his wife on trial and to get rid of the newborn baby.
We then move from dark, irrational Sicilia to the light, romantic comic airiness of Bohemia 16 years later. The connection between the two halves is a seashore scene where a baby is abandoned and which features Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions, “Exit, pursued by bear”.
It’s always amusing to see how directors deal with this and Changeling veteran Robert Forknall chose to ham it to the max – an actor in a bear costume chases a man into a tent from which bits of severed body are flung out. It gave the audience much-needed light relief after the heavy first half.
Changeling had promised Shakespeare with added Abba - and it didn’t disappoint. The second half, with its colourful hippy festival costumes had plenty of music (by Alex Scott) with the cast breaking into Take A Chance On Me and echoes of Mamma Mia! the popular film homage to Abba.
Is The Winter’s Tale a comedy, a romance or a tragedy? It turns out to be all three. It was performed brilliantly by the whole cast with standout performances by Ellis as Leontes, Beth Mullen giving it her Midlands-accented roguish all as Antigonus/Autolycus and Albert Graver as Young Shepherd with his lanky frame and laconic gestures.
As ever, Changeling found creative solutions to the challenge of their outdoor set (impressively designed by Robin Soutar) with clever scene-changes and multi-purpose props. Such attention to detail combined with fine acting made for a great evening’s entertainment.