BWW Reviews: A WINTER'S TALE, The Landor Theatre, November 12 2012
Howard Goodall and Nick Stimson's take on Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is, in many ways, radically different from the original. The question is, have the right aspects been changed? Queen Hermione becomes Queen Ekaterina for no ostensible reason (lyrical ease?), storytelling tot Mamillius is kept alive, in some sort of semi-coma, to the end and young prince Florizel's identity is unknown to his lover Perdita until his father rumbles them - all small changes, none with clear motives.
Also, there is singing - always the first nudge to suspend your disbelief and go along with the action. This is a good thing for the plot of The Winter's Tale, so surreal and convenient are the plot points. For the most part, the narrative tweaks blend in, but the book (making little use of Shakespeare's words) is still clunky in parts, never quite matching the elegance and force of the score (which draws on their essence).
A sonorous cast is led by Helena Blackman as Paulina, Pete Gallagher as Leontes, Helen Power as Ekaterina and Alastair Brookshaw as Polixenes. This quartet open the first act with gusto, along with a sombre, black-clad ensemble whose vocal intensity is best showcased in early numbers Allies! and The Cruelty of Love (even if the latter does stomp on rather too long). The score is full of passion and emotion to an intense degree, though it is perked up somewhat in act two by the introduction of some jolly peasants and witty lyrics. The contrast between the two acts is interesting - from costume to lighting to set to melodies - and lighter moments such as Found on a Beach are truly entertaining.
While the two kings are suitably macho and vengeful, girl power wins the day here. Helena Blackman adds much to the piece, giving light and shade (and steel) to some of the standout numbers such as The Tyranny of a Lie, Act Two's Prologue and Someone Else's Daughter, along with the pure warmth of Helen Power's performance. Abigail Matthews' wholesome Perdita and Fra Fee's honey-voiced Florizel also give great spirit to the youthful romance in Act Two. The staging (by Andrew Keates and choreographer Cressida Carré) is fluid and confident, with a pleasingly simple set from Martin Thomas: the ivy-laced bronze columns of Sicilia's court giving way to barrels and bunting for the scenes in rural Bohemia.
Howard Goodall's score has much of the forceful spirit of his historical British musical (and last year's Landor hit) The Hired Man, but lacks some of the book's lightness of touch and deft balance between humour and melodrama. A Winter's Tale feels a bit of a long, hard slog up in the Landor's balmy loft, but the talent of the cast and complexity of the music and lyrics are captivating. With a bit of work to get the book up to speed, this will be a bold, stylish version of The Winter's Tale. A must-hear for fans of Goodall's musical theatre.