Review: Strong and sound production of A Winter's Tale in Stratford

Hannah McBride, Jessica Gilkes and Kate Sutcliffe. Picture: Bethany Shorey

Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Winter's Tale, presented by Second Thoughts Theatre at the Bear Pit, Stratford

Paranoia can eat away at the soul, distorting the vision, making phantoms real and reality false. So Leontes’s paranoia that somehow his wife Hermione has cheated on him with his best friend Polixenes almost destroys him and those around him.

In Second Thought’s new production under the direction of Georgina Wood the reason, if not the motive, is PTSD. We begin in a war torn land. Leontes is a military hero, whose pain suddenly and mysteriously explodes. As his madness rages, he becomes more and more isolated. Even the gods desert him, denying his fantasy and arguing for Hermione’s innocence.

Leontes is a powerful representation of a mad dictator, driven by a reason all his own. Osborne gives him a nervous, frenetic energy that is both scary and deeply pitiful.

For me, however, the real star of the show is Stephanie Jepson as Paulina, Hermione’s friend and champion. The dressing down she gives poor Leontes when he realises the truth of his folly is full on, and would make any man rue the day he failed to see sense.

Deborah Williams plays Hermione with a wide eyed innocence that befits a character whose primary role is to be good. Steven Bayman plays Polixenes as a pernickety ruler, inclined himself to be tyrannical as he forbids his son Florizel (Conor Gray) to marry the lovely Perdita (Jessica Gilkes), who as we know turns out to be Leontes’ abandoned daughter. A true comic star in the making is Joshua Gallagher as Autolycus. He is a gift to the stage.

I would have liked some of the lines to have been more clearly spoken, but this is a strong production delivered by a good cast, some of whom are just starting their stage careers.

* The play runs until Saturday July 1. Call 01789 403416 to book.

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