Review: The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare at Colchester Mercury until October 8.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare at Colchester Mercury until October 8.

Dressing up the Bard’s boys and girls in modern togs is often a bit of a gamble. Some plays work better than others, and you fear for a while that this might be one of the failures. Then it dawns on you that perhaps it’s the bleak start to this story that rankles rather more than the clothes, because it’s a tale that simply taxes all belief.

Here is a king who, without reason and against all the evidence, accuses a devoted wife of adultery and of carrying the child of his best friend, another king, who has been visiting just long enough for that supposition to be a possibility.

Leontes’ jealousy becomes the kind of madness that has him abandoning his newborn daughter in the wilds for the animals to eat, causing the death of his young son and, apparently, also that of his distraught wife Hermione. All of this we readily accept from somebody in 16th century doublet and hose but less easily from a monarch in a Savile Row suit surrounded by peak-hatted tommy-gun toting guards.

That said, Sue Lefton, then directs this show into a night of delight because this is one of Shakespeare’s strange turn-around tales which (once the man given the task of disposing of the baby has been eaten by a bear) kicks misery into touch and becomes quite a rollicking romantic comedy.

The stage is suddenly filled with happy country folk and toffs in bearded disguise, singing and cavorting to the funniest, bawdiest bit of Morris dancing you’ll ever clap eyes on. The whole thing then sweeps on to a very nicely-orchestrated, moving finale which I won’t disclose to those who don’t know the story.

Tim Treslove does a good job handling the wickedness and the remorse of Leontes and he is matched by Ignatius Anthony as King Polixenes, the man he wanted to kill. But this is a very strong play for women and, as Hermione, Nadia Morgan’s speech in defence of the false accusations is beautifully done and she’s marvelous in the magic statue scene.

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Shuna Snow is very good in the power-role of Paulina who enjoys making Leontes pay for his misdeeds and Emily Woodward is pretty and sparky as Perdita, the baby who grew up and didn’t get eaten after all. David Tarkenter has a lot of fun as the light-fingered Autolycus in a big cast playing on a big stage in what turns out to be quite a big, exciting night.

David Henshall.