Wonderful Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare.Suffolk New College Performing Arts, Argyle Studio, Ipswich

The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare, Suffolk New College Performing Arts, Argyle Studio, Ipswich

It was the warmest May evening, but from the moment young Prince Mamilius tell his mother that "a sad tale's best for winter," we were in the ice-cold grip of this saddest of Shakespeare's "comedies".

How lucky the young students on the National Diploma Performing Arts course at Suffolk New College are to have a director of the calibre of Brian Theodore Ralph. The commitment to stagecraft he has instilled in them was evident from the way every member of the company behaved on stage. From the leading characters to the supernumerary lords and ladies of the court and the frolicking shepherds and shepherdesses, each member of the ensemble was totally focused, in character, and aware of exactly who they were and what their part was in the story.

A distinguished classical actor, Ralph has also proved himself an inspirational director of the classics, especially Shakespeare, and this was a truly beautiful production of The Winter's Tale. The play, with its themes of jealousy and love, loss and redemption, death and re-birth, is an uneasy mixture of tragedy and high comedy. Over-accentuate one element, and the play's delicate balance is lost - Ralph gets it just right.

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His Edwardian setting suits the play's shifting moods perfectly, with sombre, muted colours for King Leontes' austere court, and a blast of summer reds and golds for the pastoral scenes in bucolic Bohemia.

By rights, a number of these young actors should be destined for great things. The loveable rogue and cut-purse Autolycus is a sure-fire scene stealer, and James Mann used his vocal dexterity and height to great effect. There was a great comedy duo performance, too, from David Bartlett and Matthew Pickersgill as the old shepherd and his son, the former looking (and I hope he'll forgive me for saying so) remarkably like an escapee from Tolkien's Shire. Cora Graham brings a burning indignation to Lady Paulina, the steadfast defender of Queen Hermione, while, as the wronged Queen herself, Emily Loomis delivers a heart-rending, and beautifully spoken performance.

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Abram Rooney, as Leontes, gives a remarkably mature performance for so young an actor, developing the character's journey from irrational jealousy and madness to remorse and penitence with tremendous assurance. The final scene, when, to the stunned amazement of the assembled court, Hermione's statue comes to life was spellbinding.

James Hayward

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