Hugo Nicholson

Review: THE WINTER’S TALE at the National Theatre

The Winter's Tale - National Theatre When looking to introduce children to Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale might not seem like an especially sensible place to start. Despite its universal themes (love, forgiveness, jealous), its focus on young people, and the famous bear-based stage direction, the play’s wildly convoluted plot is enough to leave any audience utterly perplexed, no matter their age.

However, Justin Audibert’s stripped back version manages to keep the narrative happily clear in this joyful production; his concise telling of The Winter’s Tale renders it no less appealing to adults, and infinitely more so to its intended young audience. This is aided by the sunny details the show is sprinkled with, and which punctuate the story at regular intervals: there’s a gassy, misbehaving sheep (always a winner), some eye-catchingly vibrant costumes, and a lot of top drawer dance moves (including a synchronised floss between Leontes & Camila, which caused total pandemonium among the mostly primary school spectators). It would be hard for anyone to leave this performance without a smile on their face.

The actors bring the show to life with equal delight, and the details they add to the compressed versions of each character do not go unnoticed. The cast are playful, yes, but they don't underestimate the audience. Each deliver pitch perfect performances. Leontes’ (Joseph Adelakun) swift descent into jealous fury is just as distressing as it should be; the stoic grace of his Queen Hermione (Wreh-asha Walton) provides the ideal contrast. Aisha Toussaint’s Perdita guides us through the plot with winning charm. A soundtrack of thumping dance music and delicate choral singing helps to provide more narrative signposts (though the somewhat mind-bending Act V, in which a statue of Hermione miraculously comes to life, is still enough to confuse anyone). 

Even if the many twists and turns of this problem play are not quite grasped, this retelling of The Winter’s Tale offers more than enough to keep its audience thoroughly entertained, leaving young minds looking forward to their next Shakespearean excursion. Forget Queen Hermione’s reanimation - perhaps here is where this production’s magic truly lies.