The Winter's Tale @ Lyceum

Review by Jonny Sweet | 23 Feb 2017

One of the major criticisms levelled at Shakespeare’s The Winter's Tale is the disjointed discord between the first and second halves; while the opening three acts play out like a tragic psychological trip down the rabbit hole, the final two are overly simplistic and characterised by out-of-place comedy. This bold new production from award-winning director Max Webster attempts to turn those weaknesses into strengths by wholeheartedly embracing that juxtaposition and playing upon the zaniness of its humour.

While remaining largely true to the source material, the creative team are not afraid to play fast and loose with the language in the second half and imbue a thorough sense of Scottishness to the production throughout. This generally works very well at bringing the play into a contemporary and localised sphere, especially with regards to the musical interludes. Aly Macrae is characteristically excellent as the lynchpin of the soundtrack, while Fiona Wood displays a powerful musical range and Brian James O’Sullivan and Annie Grace provide ample backing.

Elsewhere on the stage, John Michie gives a credible portrayal of Leontes’ rapid descent into paranoid madness and subsequent remorse and Frances Grey’s performance is heartfelt and emotive. However, Maureen Beattie steals the show with her powerful Paulina, injecting some much needed impetus and authority into the show. On the comic side of things, Jimmy Chisolm is his usual irreverently hilarious self and John Stahl also shines in a slapstick role in round two.

The decision to go full throttle with regards to the farce aspects come the fourth act sees the production careen more into Burnistoun or Still Game territory than anything befitting the bard. However, the nature of the play lends itself to this gambit, paying off in spades thanks to some well-delivered updates on the original text and expert clowning from Chisolm and Stahl. It’s certainly a play of two halves, and while the end result might be something of a mess, that’s more the fault of Shakespeare than the production itself.

It’s hard to shake off the feeling that Shakespeare phoned in this play – especially when compared to his other masterpieces – but the same certainly can’t be said of Webster and his production. By turning weaknesses into strengths and modernising the play for a contemporary Scottish audience, the team elevate The Winter’s Tale into a thoroughly enjoyable winter’s evening. [Jonny Sweet]