A Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, probably most known for its famous (or infamous) stage direction - “exit pursued by a bear”.
But he story has a lot in common with some of the better known plays - a jealous husband, hidden identities, stormy seas, distant lands and separated families.
When the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production brought its latest version of the tragi-comedy to York’s Grand Opera House, it was no surprise to see the opening night of a production by such a prestigious company play to a packed house.
The play opened to what looked like a traditional Shakespearean production - noblemen and women dressed in opulent costumes reclining on cushions - but the scene was given a more modern edge by the huge projection of a rocky cove and glorious blue sea at the back of the stage.
As the first scenes progressed the backdrop and costumes changed subtly and almost imperceptible to bring the atmosphere to the dramatic climax of Leontes, King of Silicia’s jealous rage. It was an effective and enjoyable dramatic technique - more so than some heavy handed lighting and musical signals that also accompanied the play’s dark tragic moments.
The staging and set grew as the story went on - both figuratively and literally as a huge rusting metal platform grew out of the stage, and the images of stormy seas and the famous bear appeared behind the actors.
After the interval the play launched into the comedy of the final two acts, which began with a faultless and pin sharp comic scene, led by Pearce Quigley as Autolycus. His performance was brilliant throughout - funny, engaging, and direct.
Like him, Rakie Ayola as Paulina shone throughout the play. She held the stage powerfully as the determined and righteous character - producing the kind of performance that keeps the audience talking about long after they’ve left the theatre.
Their performances were the highlights of the production. Through their talents, along with the actors behind Hermione, Camillo, Leonte, Polixenes and many others, the tragic and comic tale came alive.
• A Winter’s Tale is at the Grand Opera House, York until Saturday, March 23.