In the programme notes to The Winter’s Tale, director Conrad Nelson has a gentle dig at the marketing of theatre performances. He laments not having access to the industry’s greatest messiah, Benedict Cumberbatch, currently playing a sell-out run as Hamlet at the Barbican.
No matter though as these actors deliver powerful performances. And, as it is Halifax-based Northern Broadsides (and therefore the Bard with a Northern twang courtesy of ebullient founder Barrie Rutter) there are some great pronunciations of the text. My particular favourite was ceremonious which sounded more like serrymoanyus – uttered by Nelson’s Leontes. There was also the odd Welsh lilt evident among one of the servant characters.
Nelson talks of “time, redemption, jealously and reconciliation” being among the key issues of the play, and they all came across loud and clear in this raucous production. The audience at Oldham Coliseum roared with approval at the appearance of a personification of Time, in his green striped blazer, boater hat and ill-fitting white wig. He had the comic timing of Lee Evans.
Admittedly, it’s not my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, written towards the end of his life and with a certain bleakness attached to it. But I like the duality of the settings, 16 years apart. And the Oldham Coliseum is a gem of a building. Lesser towns would have turned it into a cinema, or worse, a cavernous Wetherspoons pub with beer-stuck carpets, decades ago.
Nelson transforms the first act setting in Sicilia to Millennium Eve 1999 as a party is in full flow. Auld Lang Syne rings out until Leontes throws an epic strop, accusing his pregnant wife Hermione of having an affair with his brother Polixenes. Hannah Barrie is spectacular as Hermione, dressed in an ethereal white dress and barefoot as if to heighten her vulnerability. She has a lengthy CV of Shakespearian roles, so this tour de force is not surprising.
Thanks to horrendous traffic on the M56, I missed the start of the performance, arriving just as Leontes was in meltdown. It seemed apt, given my frustrating effort to make it for curtain up.
But I preferred the second act, set in 2015 in Bohemia with Mike Hugo’s beatbox busking Autolycus, reminiscent of Beardyman with a neat sideline in Bob Dylan impressions. Although I found the ragtag group of musicians a little annoying in parts, the sheep, disguises and swapped roles made it move at a pace.
The set is almost bare which allows the eye to focus on the music, words and dance in this lively production. But there was no bear, unless I somehow missed it. I would have liked a bear.
By Helen Carter
The Winter’s Tale is touring until November 28, 2015. For more information, click here
For more information about Oldham Coliseum, follow this link: coliseum.org.uk