The Northern Broadsides‘ production of The Winter’s Tale, having begun at Harrogate Theatre, has come to the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. The small, enclosed and minimal set design at the SJT and strong Northern ensemble cast immediately created an intimate and engaging production. Opening on New Year’s Eve 1999, the director-actor Conrad Nelson gives us a strong but tormented Leontes. Hermione (Hannah Barrie) and Polixenes (Jack Lord) are instantly laughing, embracing and even have Lord cradling Barrie’s pregnant belly. Unlike other interpretations, the audience might find reason behind Leontes’ sudden jealous rage. Nelson’s angered and hardened Leontes matched perfectly with Barrie’s stoic Hermione, and Ruth Alexander Rubin commands the stage as a fiery Paulina. The dark first half closes on a bleak note, that though a little rushed at times, left us eagerly anticipating the rest of the play.
It is in the early scenes of the second half the Northern Broadsides are able to show off their skills. Mike Hugo’s Autolycus set the scene for a more playful second half as he plays guitar, the harmonica and gives the audience a Bob Dylan-style re-imagining of “When daffodils begin to peer” which almost stole the show. The stage is brightened and fresh flowers and wooden palettes create a still minimal yet delightful new setting for the countryside scenes to follow. The cast lighten up the stage with hippie costuming, live instruments for musical numbers (with original songs composed by Nelson) and energetic jigs. Vanessa Schofield and Jordon Kemp are fresh and charismatic as Perdita and Florizel, and the gloom of earlier scenes are long forgotten.
We must, of course, leave the flowery brightness of Bohemia and return to Leontes’ court in Sicilia. Nelson and Rubin continue to work well together, acting as the remorseful king and the all-knowing Paulina – as she tells Leontes of her plans for his ‘new’ bride who will be so much like Leontes’ “first queen’s ghost” we can feel the action propelling to its happy ending. The unique musical touch also continues throughout the rest of the play, ending with an enchanting motet that has enough magic and charm to it to have us suspend disbelief for the play’s emotional and fantastical finale.
The Northern Broadsides’ performance of The Winter’s Tale will continue its run in Cheltenham, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Lancaster, Liverpool, and Halifax. You can find more information and purchase tickets here.