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The Winter's Tale @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre - Review

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by ABC Writer (subscribe)
Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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TV star Tara Fitzgerald stirs up emotions in her RSC debut
This epic Shakespeare story of sexual jealousy, misplaced cruelty and abandoned children wouldn't be amiss in any soap opera.

The Winter's Tale has a glamorous cast, including Tara Fitzgerald making her Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) debut; there's a cat fight between two women in love with the same man; and refreshingly, the distinctively Lancashire accents of residents in Bohemia would fit perfectly in Coronation Street.

The Winter's Tale at Royal Shakespeare Theatre.Photo Sheila Burnett

Opening at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in Stratford upon Avon, ahead of a national tour, this production managed to gel both the horror and comedy from The Winter's Tale - one of Shakespeare's "problem plays" - into an intense drama.

Deemed a problem because the first half is a psychological drama while the second section is a romantic comedy, director Lucy Bailey maintains an undercurrent of menace that makes the play more seamless.

Bailey also wasn't afraid to use shock tactics at a couple of points to stop the audience from remaining complacent. The brutality shown by King Leontes to his wife and King Polixenes to his son bring gasps from the crowd.

The story follows King Leontes, of Sicilia, as he is consumed with bitter jealousy over unfounded fears that his wife Hermione (Tara Fitzgerald) is being unfaithful with his close friend Polixennes, king of neighbouring Bohemia. Leontes(Jo Stone-Fewings) resorts to drastic measures, which lead to his newborn daughter being discarded into the wild.

Stone-Fewings wonderfully depicts a man who becomes more and more mentally unhinged and Fitzgerald makes a strong RSC debut, stirringly defiant yet emotional as Hermione fights to save her life.

Tara Fitzgerald makes an impressive RSC debut. Photo Sheila Burnett

After the interval, there's a far different mood as the story leaps 16 years into the future with the romantic escapades of the next generation. Hermione and Leontes' grown-up daughter Perdita, who is unaware of her parentage and a lowly shepherdess, is now in love with King Polixenes' son.

Wonderful warm spirit of comedy in The Winter's Tale.Photo Sheila Burnett

There's time for plenty frivolities, comic roguery and even morris dancing in Bohemia - a cliche of 'up north' if ever there was one - featuring sunbathers in deckchairs with handkerchiefs on their head and accents that are straight out of a Hovis advert.

Actor Pearce Quigley stands out in this half as lovable crook Autolycus with the funniest moments of the play. His chemistry with Perdita's rather dim adopted father and brother are delightful and envelope a warm-hearted spirit to the theatre - what could be better for a cold winter's night?

The Winter's Tale continues in Stratford upon Avon until February 23 and then goes on a national tour from March to Milton Keynes, York, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Hull and Stoke. Tickets from RSC Website

The Winter's Tale at Royal Shakespeare Theatre.Photo Sheila Burnett
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Why? Great night of theatre
When: until February 23
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: 5- 35
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