I have to commend the Society of Theatrical Arts at Butler for tackling the feat that is Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The large cast delivered the whole of the unusual play, which is not the most popular of the Bard’s works. Understandably, this took a good three hours; however, as a piece of student theatre a little textual adaptation would not have gone amiss in order to increase the pace of the action.
I was expecting a “contemporary adaptation” which “forsakes the Elizabethan aesthetics” but, in fact, it was quite the opposite. There was no clear concept or updated contemporary setting and the director chose to stay very close to the original text. The acting style, which focused heavily on gesture, was often traditionally Elizabethan, as was the very basic set. I would have liked to see this production excel in a performance space more like that of the seventeenth century, perhaps an open air setting or Castle’s Great Hall.
The production would have also benefitted from more dynamic staging. I thought the actors often felt restricted to the same areas of the stage and were afraid to make physical contact with one another. This occasionally hindered their performances, especially in emotionally-driven scenes such as King Leontes’ irrational accusation of his queen for adultery and treason.
Music and lighting effects also would have enhanced the atmosphere. The scene in which they were used, the revelation of Queen Hermione’s statue, demonstrated their effectiveness; there was a feeling of suspense and a sense that something magical was about to occur. Not only was the audience captivated, the actors’ performances were honest and touching as the jealous King and his family were reunited.
Stand-out performances include Beatrice Vincent as the trickster Autolycus who deserved more laughs than she received as the audience was sparse, Danielle Oliver who confidently played both Antigonus and Time, and Zoe Coxon as the motherly Hermione. I also liked Matthew Davey’s performance as the simple, country clown.
The director and actors had obviously spent a long time ensuring Shakespeare’s lines were clear and easily understood by the audience (although some of this time might have been better spent polishing entrances, exits, and scene changes.) For some members of the cast The Winter’s Tale was their acting debut so I was particularly impressed with their delivery of the text.
One of the moments I was most looking forward to was the infamous ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ and, sadly, this was anti-climactic. However, as the company grows in confidence, I am sure their performances will be able to compensate for it.
Illustration: Fruzsina Pittner