THE WINTER'S TALE
Romford Summer Theatre at Raphael Park
for Remote Goat
For Shakespeare and his contemporaries, a "winter's tale" was a story of spooks and goblins, best told around a roaring fire.
As the Romford wind whipped up from the lake, rustling the shrubbery and snatching the words from the actors' mouths, I dreamed wistfully of that Tudor hearth.
This Winter's Tale was the 51st production for the RST; it was an introduction to Shakespeare, and to acting al fresco, for some of the large cast. Must have been chilly for them, too, and picking up cues was clearly a problem. There seemed to be a feast toward in the musicians' tent, but their lovely music was too often stolen by "each wind that blows".
But the show, directed by Wendi Sheard, is an assured, dynamic telling of this often dark comedy, helped by the atmospheric sylvan setting – comparable with Regent's Park, I thought – "where God paints the scenery", as the old song goes. [One bonus is that we can see background action, almost off-stage.] And immeasurably enhanced by bold, nuanced performances in the key roles.
Victoria Abery is a radiantly smiling Hermione at the start, excellent in the courtroom, convincing even as the statue, in a gorgeous gown. Her advocate, Paulina, is beautifully characterized by Lorraine Ely; her jealous king, Leontes [Simon Drake], who "too much believes his own suspicions", is resplendent in brown and gold, confident, and always clearly audible in his soliloquies. And moving, when, a broken man, he collapses like a child on the rockery steps. His "brother" Bohemia is a blunt Rob Morley.
The young lovers, in the sunnier second half, are Jake Portsmouth, speaking the verse very persuasively, with Melany Dantes-Mortimer as his pretty Perdita.
Amongst the score or so other characters, mention must be made of Roy Hobson as the cupbearer Camillo, Morgan Simmonds as the "gallant child", Nick Lupton as a cheeky wide-boy Autolycus, and Jim Rimell's entertaining double as a fantastical Father Time, with his hourglass, and a voluble Steward, surely some kin of Malvolio. The lighter people – a pair of fleece-clad clownish shepherds – are cleverly contrasted: David Lintin's rustic father and Solomon Akano's streetwise son.
By the time Leontes found the painted statue "warm", we were so frozen as to be almost past caring, but we sat stoically till the curtain call, the whole cast, almost outnumbering the audience, stretched across the Raphael Park rockery, with a witty final nod to the famous Bear, fatal pursuer of John Lester's Antigonus.