Review: The Winter's Tale (Bard in the Botanics)
Updated: Jun 1
There’s something rather paradoxical about The Winter’s Tale being performed in the summer. In this adaptation, the stage is draped in grey rags as director and designer Gordon Barr casts a shadow over the sunny botanical gardens. Brimming with paranoia, the jealous king Leontes (Adam Donaldson) accuses his wife (Nicole Cooper) of infidelity, and watches as his life falls apart before his eyes.
The challenge that Donaldson faces in the role is the turnaround from welcoming his friend Polixenes to stay, to attempting to murder him in a matter of minutes. But Donaldson not only sells this change of heart completely, but delivers an outstanding performance as Leontes. He portrays a man desperate to prove his strength, but so overwhelmed he is unable to hide his vulnerability. When he breaks down on the floor it does not come off as melodrama but raw anguish.
Another performance that shines is that of Jennifer Dick in the role of Paulina, a noblewoman who comes to the Queen’s defence after she is imprisoned. Her heartfelt defiance could rally an army, which balances the subservience of the rest of the characters. The dialogue between her and Donaldson creates one of the most compelling Shakespearian scenes I have ever seen.
The Queen herself, Cooper, can play into the roles of being friendly/flirtatious, and convincingly hurt when she is accused, but can’t carry the performance through to the later scenes. She is never fully believable as the broken and desperate character we might expect. Stephanie McGregor plays both of her children – first a young son then an older daughter. McGregor appears more comfortable in the second role and believably embodies the love-struck teenager.
Indeed, she is the highlight of the second half. Although this act, set 16 years after the first, is entertaining in its own right, it proves too rushed and abrupt to feel like a fluid continuation of the story. Granted this is a challenge of this play, but unfortunately, it is one that Barr does not pull off as smoothly as Leontes’ friend-to-enemy change of heart. Even so, he makes his presence felt as a director, with touches like a play fight that goes too far between the king and his son being particularly effective.
For audiences who are already familiar with The Winter’s Tale, Barr’s aesthetic and direction won’t present you with anything you haven’t seen before. It is a faithful and unchallenging adaptation that invites newcomers to enjoy the play for the first time. And even with the shifts in tone, this adaptation deserves to be seen on the strength of Donaldson and Dick’s performances alone. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
I thought it was great.
Great pacing, I was held from beginning to end.