The Winter’s Tale, produced by Helikon Theatre Company, is an interesting attempt at transforming a classic, well known, Shakespeare comedy into a tragic drama with a sci-fi touch. Coming to life under the lights of OSO Art Centre, it is definitely a unique piece of art to witness.
The story deals with conspiracies happening in the Sicilian court, where King Leontes becomes obsessed with the idea of his heavily pregnant wife, Hermione having an affair with his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, who’s been staying with them for the past 9 months. One can only imagine the things that a jealous King is capable of doing. The story turns into a nightmare full of entanglements, accusations, deaths and regrets, typical for Shakespeare.
The characters are given many chances to discover and develop a wide range of contrasting emotions. However, that often remains unexploited. The actors, whose names sadly remain a mystery, deliver a strong and powerful performance but don’t really connect with the audience, which is partially due to the number of things that happen in this play. This makes it feel rushed, and leaves no moment where one could digest what they have just been served. The first thing that catches your eye when entering the room, are the actors already positioned on the stage, like statues with faces which show no emotions. It instantly told me this play would push boundaries and experiment with performance around the text.
Although The Winter’s Tale is categorised as a comedy, this one simply doesn’t trigger enough laughter to be defined as such, but on the other hand, its comical moments prohibit it from being called a dramatic tragedy. One can’t really focus on the comedy since the story is complex and difficult to follow. For non-Shakespeare aficionados, the play is understandable without previously knowing the story, but reading the synopsis will make it a whole lot easier to enjoy and follow along.
The stage is set in a futuristic way, with plenty of technology emphasized by sounds and lights. But, it comes off a bit unfinished and the element of the audience seeing backstage didn’t add anything to the production. The occasional use of microphones was unnecessary, though perhaps artistically required, because the theatre is small, perhaps this was an opportunity to connect with the audience by speaking directly to them.
Somehow, I found a moment during the performance where I considered what if this The Winter’s Tale were set on a different stage, with different scene design, would it work better? Would the audience get drawn to it easier or connect to it on a different level?
And my honest answer would be yes. I think this theatre company have a great base to work off and develop, until it feels like a coherent finished piece for the more people to enjoy. Maybe after some renovation it could even find a more comfortable spot between comedy and tragedy.