The Winter’s Tale Festival Theatre

In football parlance, Lucy Bailey's new production of The Winter’s Tale is a game of two distinct halves. The kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia are divided by class rather than location, and the play veers from the ever-growing menace of King Leontes’(Jo Stone-Fewings) wealthy court of the opening period to the broad humour of the Bohemian peasants after the interval. The backdrop of a sparkling, sunlit sea seems at odds, too, with the “Winter” aspect of the play although this gradually darkens in time with Leontes’ madness.

The contradiction makes for an uneasy entertainment. As Leontes descends into an increasingly paranoid state, his insecurities convince him that his Queen is having an affair with his best friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia. His false accusation culminates in a death sentence for both Queen Hermoine and their unborn child. He comes close to terminating the child himself at one point, with a sudden act of violence that drew a gasp from the whole audience.
Instead, the child is taken and abandoned on the coast of Bohemia, which may not be as bad as it sounds, because in this production, it appears to be a Lancashire coastal resort during Wakes Week.

There’s folk music (a grand score by Bellowhead’s John Boden), morris dancing and general merriment. Not to mention bicycling shepherds and a show-stealing performance from Pearce Quigley as the vagabond pickpocket Autolycus, whose role as both narrator and driver of the action becomes central to the resolution of the plot.

Mostly, though, it’s the women who put things to right, none more so than Paulina (the excellent Rakie Ayola) who shrugs off the death of her husband (missing, presumed eaten by a bear while abandoning the child Perdita) to present Leontes with a statue of Hermoine which magically comes to life to give a happy ending.

An uneven production, and slightly disappointing given that this is the Royal Shakespeare Company, but redeemed by some fine performances. Stone-Fewings in the demanding role of Leontes, Tara Fitzgerald as Hermoine, the aforementioned Rakie Ayola and Pearce Quigley, and a particularly well-judged Camillo from Daniel Betts.Jim Welsh