Shakespeare is often described as our most contemporary playwright. His plays explore what it means to be human, something that never changes from century to century, across countries and cultures. Shakespeare continues to be performed because the social issues of his day - class division, racism, intolerance, the role and status of women, crime, war, death - are still the burning issues in today's dysfunctional global society. Adapting and updating the plays
often brings relevance and topicality, especially to engage a young audience.
Believed to be inspired by Robert Green's romantic novel, Pandosto
(1590) on the topic of adultery, "The Winter's Tale" is described as
both a tragedy and pastoral comedy. Mark Thomson's new version is set
(loosely) around the 1950s, a time when men were in charge of
government and law and women were mothers, wives and domestic
On a bare minimalist stage are two thrones (one larger than
the other) for the arrival of Leontes (Liam Brennan, pictured), King of Sicilia, (soberly
dressed in a grey double breasted suit), and his heavily pregnant wife,
Hermione, glamorous and glowing in a flowing white dress. Their house
guest Polixines, King of Bohemia, has been visiting them for nine
months and despite Leontes invitation to stay, now wishes to return
But Hermione is able to persuade him to stay, a conspiratorial sign of
friendship which causes her husband to feel insanely jealous. He
believes she is having an adulterous affair with Polixenes, his
childhood friend. He plans his revenge, ordering his courtier Camillo
to poison the king, but the two men flee from Sicilia. Hermione is
charged with adultery and imprisoned, as her unborn child is declared
illegitimate. Her trial will be conducted by the Oracle of Delphi as
she awaits her fate. The first act evolves as a modern psychological
drama; indeed, the Lyceum programme is designed like a Hitchcock movie
poster - "Love, jealousy, suspicion, rage, beauty" it reads in bold
black and red.
Liam Brennan (Leontes) and Selina Boyack (Hermione) are simply terrific
as the handsome, romantic couple, initially regal, sedate and very much
in love, until, as warring husband and wife, this perfect image of
their marriage suddenly shatters like frozen ice. Leontes is soon
destroyed, literally crippled, by his cruel actions, while Hermione
remains composed, serene and youthfully beautiful, frozen in time.
At the start of the second act - with a Steven Hawking style time-travel scene change - we jump forward sixteen years as the mood gradually lightens into a pastoral comedy. Comedian Alan Francis relishes his roles as Antigonus/Autolycus, donning sunglasses and blind
man's stick in some hilarious beggar man sketches, while Peter Kelly
and Robin Laing create a witty double act as the two shepherds finding
"treasure" on the Bohemian seashore. Una McLean plays the wise and
loyal Paulina with a real strength of character. Casting Siobhan Reilly
as both the school boy, Mamillius and his long lost sister Perdita,
might seem apt, but she fails to convince. (Perhaps a change from her
lilting Glaswegian accent to differentiate Sicilian royal prince from
Bohemian peasant girl?).
Overall, the simple ice-white box set, lyrical
music, dramatic narrative with a touch of humour, re-tells this
magical, fairy tale for a modern audience, complete with the famous
stage direction, Exit, pursued by a bear.
Show times: 21 September to 20 October. Evenings Tuesday to
Saturday, 7.45pm; matinees, 26, 27 September, 3, 6, 10 and 13 October,
2.30pm. Audio described performance, pre show talk. Royal Lyceum Theatre.