12th December 2014
Another unusual venue, this one – The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, which is situated above a pub in Kentish Town. And when I say above a pub I means this very literally – when the show’s about to start, a bell rings, a door in the wall of the pub opens, and the audience goes up to a space above the main bar.* As you might therefore expect, this means it is a very intimate space – more a studio than a grand theatre, and with little in the way of set (but a seemingly pretty fancy light rig).
The general vibe was steampunk-y. The lighting was definitely meant to imply steamships (of varying colours for different locations), and the cast had an overabundance of corsets and goggles (although I would say the costuming was good – a pleasing overall co-ordination, it was also easy to gauge locations/ types of characters from what they wore, with the jarring exception of Perdita’s first outfit which really didn’t seem to fit her personality, seeing as how it was a very short skirt with thigh-high white socks. The comments about her nobility being clear to see seemed… misplaced…)
Let’s face it, The Winter’s Tale is a pretty odd play, combining a brutal, tragic first half with a crude, comic second half. The production didn’t really shy away from the split – the two halves felt almost completely separate until they tie up at the end – and part of me wonders, especially given the amount of doubling-up the cast did, whether it isn’t possible to do more to tie the threads together. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has seen other productions how they tackle the chasm in mood.
Robert Myles, who played Autolycus and did most of the clowning (along with Nic McQuillan as the Shepherd’s brother) was a tour de force – if a bit too much, sometimes – his scenes were all about him and his (very funny) spiel and much less about the play. They really seemed to belong in a different world to Christopher Neels and Elizabeth Appleby as Leontes and Hermione, who were intense and compelling – particularly Leontes’s grief which was raw and real. Credit must therefore be due to those actors who did have to bridge the gap between the two sets of scenes – particularly Gareth Kearns as Camillo (Ben Bradford as Polixenes was a bit of a mixed bag – when he relaxed into it he was very watchable, but at other times he seemed quite tense about the language and the lines did not flow as smoothly as they might have.)
The music was interesting – we had three interludes – the first half finishing with “in the pines” (not a song I knew, but bearing all the characteristics of a traditional ballad, what with the undertones of misery and death. Apparently Nirvana did a cover.) The sheep-shearing gave us a rollicking rendition of some country song I didn’t know and the show ended with Sweet Child of Mine the acoustic version**.
The happy ending is frankly unbelievable (indeed, we had a lively discussion about whether SPOILER ALERT the statue actually came to life or Hermione had done a 16-year Hero and just stayed in Paulina’s house) and you can’t help feeling sorry for little Mamillius who doesn’t get a miraculous resurrection. But I cried at the end (the good type of tears) so that’s probably a recommendation…
* It seems like a bloody nice pub – we had dinner beforehand and it was very tasty!
** I’m not sure when waily women doing acoustic versions became a thing, but I blame John Lewis…