We are playing a game, a game of make-believe. There’s a king and a queen, the king’s chum from school who also happens to be a king, and the gamekeeper who does little to hide her disappointment at being passed over for a royal role. This cast of four leads us through Ignace Cornelissen’s adaptation of The Winter’s Tale, bringing frivolity and delightful humour to balance the darkness of this melancholy story.
The show is aimed at children between 7 and 10 years old. Having said that over half of the audience were, let’s just say certainly not of primary school age, and the prize for the greatest visible expressions of enjoyment has to go to a pair of teenagers rolling with laughter at the wittier remarks. Wit, indeed, is what drives the play, whether the kids appreciate it or not. We’re constantly moving between the world of the play and the “real” world of the game, allowing actors to snipe at each other for not doing their role well enough, or to take a quick sandwich break. The comical potential comes to a head when Leontes, played by Ben Caplan, drops his queen, Ginny Holder, in a scene which descends into bickering about the injury she could have suffered. Leontes is condemned continually in the out-of-role chatter as a “bad” king, and we realise that in this way they are allowed to say what Shakespeare’s characters could not.
Visuals are on the whole strong; there’s a delightful game which brings the two young lovers, Perdita and Florizel, together as they remove pegs from a line with their teeth. More impressive, though, is Ginny Holder’s rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow, a powerfully delivered vocal demonstration of her royal roots. In all, the cast do an excellent job of introducing Shakespeare and engaging kids in a fun and comical way; the only problem really is the unsatisfactory ending. It’s hard to understand why Ignace Cornelissen felt the need to alter what for me is the most beautiful and touching moment of the play, and a moment which only would have added to the magic of the performance for the children in the audience.
A Winter’s Tale is at the Unicorn Theatre until Friday 16th of November. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Unicorn Theatre website. Photo by Robert Day.