14 Jul The Winter’s Tale
Directed by Andrew Hilton
07 February – 16 March 2002
Production Photos © Alan Moore 2002
John Mackay Leontes
Lisa Kay Hermione & Perdita
Peter Clifford Polixenes
James Hilton & Felix Lehane Mamillius
David Collins Camillo
Paul Nicholson Archidamus & Old Shepherd
Jonathan Nibbs Antigonus & Musician
Zoë Aldrich Paulina & Shepherdess
Lucy Black Emilia, Dorcas & Perdita
Esther Ruth Elliott Lady & Mopsa
Mark Puddle Cleomenes & Servant
Alex MacLaren Dion & Shepherd
Ed Sinclair Cerimon & Shepherd
Tom Sherman Lord & Young Shepherd
James Anderson Keeper, Officer, Time, 2nd Gent & Musician
Tom Espiner 1st Gent, Mariner & Florizel
Chris Donnelly Attendant & Autolycus
Joanna Espiner, Linda Mears & Helen Moody Violinists
‘When daffodils begin to peer’ sung by Jack Telfer St.Claire and recorded by Alec Reid
Director Andrew Hilton
Set & Costume Designer Andrea Montag
Costume Supervisor Jane Tooze
Assistant Designer Ruth Hall
Lighting Designer Paul Towson
Composer John Telfer
Choreographer Kay Zimmerman
Production Photographer Alan Moore
Production Manager Clive Stevenson
Stage Manager Hilary Balmond
Technical Stage Manager Pauline Skidmore
Assistant Stage Manager Polly Meech
The Daily Telegraph OFTEN in the theatre, simplicity proves the best policy. Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, a company set up three years ago to mount large-scale Shakespeare productions in a converted tobacco factory in downtown Bristol, has a hallmark style that is as clear and unadorned as its name.
The Winter’s Tale, which opens its latest season, is so no-frills that I kept wondering how designer Andrea Montag spends her days: her main contribution here consists of four high-backed wooden chairs. Andrew Hilton, who directs, understands completely, however, that when work is presented close up and in the round, the audience can enjoy other kinds of visual delights to do with the positioning of the actors, the way they look at each other, and their tiniest gestures.
This pared-down approach is brilliantly suited to a play in which things get blown out of proportion. It’s the manner in which Hermione extends her hand to her husband, Leontes, but then clasps instead that of his childhood friend Polixenes that tips the Sicilian king into his jealous rage. Here, in a court where everyone is attired in Victorian dress and holds themselves with prim rectitude, such a casually demonstrative act has the force of a gun blast.
Tom Espiner & Lisa Kay as Florizel & Perdita Featured photo (top): Lisa Kay as Hermione
Hilton’s direction is assured throughout but the production feels at its happiest when the action switches to Bohemia and the buttoned-up formality is exchanged for a looser, more relaxed playing style. Chris Donnelly’s rascalish Autolycus is as light on his feet as he is with his fingers and Lisa Kay – already superb as the wronged Hermione – blooms as Perdita, her abandoned daughter. The festival scene in which she dances with Tom Espiner’s boundlessly charismatic Florizel to whirling Hungarian gipsy music provides a perfect restorative for those beaten down by winter blues or jaded by bad Bard productions. Dominic Cavendish
The Observer … A different approach to staging Shakespeare is bringing rapt audiences to Bristol’s Tobacco Factory, where Andrew Hilton directs two plays a season with crystalline precision. The space is small but the casts are big: productions are intimate and expansive. There are no star names: the cast, often untried, is largely drawn from the Old Vic Theatre School. Design is unobtrusive, scene changes marked by a dip of the lights …
Zoe Aldrich as Paulina
You could chart the unexamined misogyny of the English stage by the portrayal of Paulina, the play’s most perceptive character who, knowing and speaking her mind, is often presented as a comic shrew. Zoë Aldrich beautifully remakes her as honest, kind and purposeful. You’d think it would be impossible in a space where the audience can register everything in close-up to make the idea of a statue coming to life plausible, let alone moving. They pull it off. The risks are higher and the pay-off is greater: when Lisa Kay (playing both Hermione and her daughter, so you witness a resurrection by looking from one face to another) raises her hand, a gasp runs through the auditorium.
And Hilton brings to life moments that you barely knew existed: a slowly dying light on a shepherd’s face as he talks about the dying and the newborn goes straight to the heart of the play. And to the audience. Susannah Clapp
Venue Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s fifth, like Beethoven’s, is unquestionably a masterpiece. Any production boasting only a fraction of its pace and passion would deserve acclaim but the fact that this one features engaging, detailed performances from every single member of the cast and more heart-stopping moments than an England World Cup penalty shoot-out means critical hand-me-downs of the ‘spell-binding emotional roller-coaster’ variety don’t even come close. A flawless interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s more complex works, it hits hard with the devastating tragedy of the first half before switching effortlessly into upbeat rustic comedy and segueing into the magical final scene. Seething with suppressed ferocity, John Mackay’s portrayal of Leontes’s descent into madness is positively explosive while, at the opposite extreme,
Chris Donnelly as Autolycus
Chris Donnelly strikes comic gold with his wickedly quick-witted Autolycus. Lisa Kay pulls off the difficult feat of playing both Hermione and Perdita without batting an eyelid, Zoë Aldrich is a strong, plain-speaking Paulina, and there’s quality acting by the barrow-load from the likes of Lucy Black, Peter Clifford, David Collins, Tom Espiner and Paul Nicholson. It is, quite simply, a magnificent piece of theatre, the kind of achingly good, attitude-changing drama, which, in years to come, will undoubtedly be regarded as a landmark production. Tom Phillips
‘A sad tale’s best for winter’
Sexual jealousy is at the heart of this tale as it is at the heart of Othello. But Othello is himself the victim of malignant jealousy, Iago deliberately lighting the spark of suspicion that Desdemona has been unfaithful. And he had fertile ground; Othello, an outsider in Venetian high society, can only too easily be persuaded that he has misread language, sign and gesture – that, in short, he is out of his depth in the arcane conventions of Venetian love exchange.
John Mackay as Leontes
In The Winter’s Tale there is no such villain and no such unfamiliarity. Leontes, and his supposed rival and betrayer Polixenes, are life-long friends and equals; and their respective worlds of Sicilia and Bohemia – despite the Bohemian lord’s modest assertion that there is “great difference” between Bohemia and Sicilia – seem to share identical conventions and mores. Shakespeare is now looking at jealousy in a more general and even more disturbing manifestation. No-one is driving Leontes’ madness but himself.
We didn’t buy the common argument that the play is interested only in the consequences of Leontes’ jealousy and not the roots of it. It is not the first time that Shakespeare has written of the chaos into which sexual experience throws ‘innocent’ childhood friendship. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream such chaos reigns throughout the night. It is resolved happily, the young friends/lovers rescued from the cruel, jealous and destructive passions that threaten to overwhelm them by the magical interventions of the forest and the worldly-wise authority of the sexually experienced Theseus. But jealousy is within love, Shakespeare seems to be saying, and – away from the magic forest – will destroy it unless that love is exchanged with honesty and frankness and in a language that is true, simple and direct.
Lisa Kay as Hermione & Peter Clifford as Polixenes
In The Winter’s Tale we find such language in rural Bohemia, but not in the world of the court, where guarded, sometimes florid but always fragile courtesy are the daily currency. Hermione, a dangerous interloper in the boys’ sentimentally recollected world, has her own language – fulsome, unguarded, challenging – as does Paulina, whose perfectly admirable plain-speaking earns her such undeserved titles as ‘mankind witch’, ‘crone’ and ‘callat’. The vessel of the court’s emotional world is too fragile to hold such candour, vigour and passion and both women’s interventions – Hermione’s well-meant effort to persuade Polixenes to stay longer and Paulina’s equally well-meant presentation of the new-born baby – misfire disastrously.
Such human vulnerability to tragedy is often Shakespeare’s theme. But in this ‘sad tale’ – and taking up the threads of loss and rediscovery in Twelfth Night and Pericles – he thankfully offers us a glimpse of redemption in perhaps his most astonishing yet assured final scene. Andrew Hilton