I am not a Shakespeare fan. Once upon our drama teacher told us that you either love him or you hate him, to which my reaction was … well, I was indifferent up until everyone telling me I ought to love him.
This year’s Summer Shakespeare is A Winter’s Tale, which the promo material is calling ‘one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works’. And by lesser known, they mean bad. There are huge tonal shifts, with the elements seeming to have been pieced together from other plays (let’s take the tragedy of the jealous husband, but mix it up with some mistaken identities and general bawdiness). Scenes that you’d think should be quite moving and important, like the king being reunited with the daughter he exiled as a baby, are reduced to being summed up by the other characters. And, of course, everything has to be repeated and restated a billion times. Just in case we didn’t get that, say, the king is a jerk.
The production itself was decent, although some decisions seem inexplicable – why, for example, are the women dressed as flight attendants? The ramshackle look of the set design was suited to the comedic parts of the play, but not those that were high tragedy. But then, when you have a character’s tragic soliloquy interrupted by his being chased offstage by a bear, maybe you give up on having things make sense.
I thought the comedic parts of the play worked best. The acrobatics were very entertaining, and I enjoyed the tension between the young lovers. The tragic parts weren’t so effective, although some of the actors were very good. The woman who played Queen Hermione was especially so, her pain and dignity palpable. Antigonus was also excellent (although the bear kind of ruined the moment). I didn’t mind the time given up to their parts.
The King not so much. I really don’t get why a man would decide his wife was cheating on him and also plotting to murder him and therefore he will have her executed, as well as their newborn child. The jealous husband is one of my least favourite stories, so it may have been that that left me unconvinced, rather than any weakness in the performance.
A Winter’s Tale is not a play I recommend. But there are worse ways to spend an evening than outdoors at the theatre. Even if our lemonade did end up tipped over an actor’s head.