Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s offering at this years first annual Stonnington Shakespeare Festival, The Winter’s Tale, is “smash[ing] all the rules that we have come to expect from a traditional drama,” according to Artistic Director Jennifer Sarah Dean. “Unity of time, place and action are hurled aside as we range across the world, from court to country, high tragedy to low comedy, across a time span of sixteen years.”
She does not disappoint.
Whether big, choreographed dance numbers are your thing, or you have a penchant for sing-a-longs, this production showcases an array of talent to match anyone’s taste. The set design is simple, adaptable and well-thought out and the costumes are true to the period. On top of that, the company uses fully reclaimed, reused, and recycled costumes and sets in all their productions!
However, where this show really shines is in the strength of its acting talent. Early on, it is obvious that every actor in the cast is incredibly well versed in their individual roles and work hard to create characters with depth.
I was especially impressed by the acting chops of David Meadows – who played King of Sicilia ‘Leontes,’ and Melanie Gleeson – acting alongside Meadows as Leontes’ wife, Queen ‘Hermione.’ Meadows brought the stubborn, angry Leontes to life so dominantly that his presence on stage was formidable, and I found that I hung on his every word as I waited to see what rageful thing he would do next.
The beautiful and strong-willed Queen Hermione, played by Gleeson, brought a sense of warmth to the play. Gleeson had an ability to project her voice throughout the park, commanding the audience to sit up and take notice (the actors don’t wear mics in this play so that is no easy feat). There was one scene in particular (I won’t tell you which) where the actress delivered a powerful monologue with so much heart and conviction that it gave me goosebumps.
Together, both actors played off each other so well, breaking the hearts of everyone watching with how well they portrayed their tragic story.
Comic relief came in the form of Tref Gare, who played the clumsy and dim-witted ‘Shepard.’ Gare fully committed to his slap-stick style of acting, and has perfected the art of the ‘stage fall,’ throwing himself to the ground on multiple occasions so convincingly that a couple of times I was genuinely concerned that he may have in fact just fallen and injured himself for real.
Something I really admired about this adaptation is that it doesn’t adhere to the usual rules that may be attached to a regular Shakespearean production. Very much like how Baz Lurhmann modernised his Romeo and Juliet, Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s The Winter’s Tale has that modern twist to help it appeal to a wider audience. While some (myself and my partner included) may struggle to understand some of the Shakespearean language from time to time, everyone in the audience is bound to know one of the many chart-topping musical numbers that the play includes – courtesy of the company’s Musical Director Natalie Calia. The music spans decades, with songs like 2014’s Walk The Moon’s uber-catchy ‘Shut Up and Dance,’ through to Tom Jones’ 1994 classic, ‘It’s Not Unusual.’ There truly is something for everyone.
It’s director promises that “this exciting new production will keep audiences young and old on the edge of their seats with its dynamic combination of music, drama and comedy,” and I wholeheartedly agree. So, whether you’re feeling like taking your partner out for date night or getting the whole family out of the house for the day, The Winter’s Tale is a great experience for everyone. Grab a bottle of wine, whip up a cheese board and head to Central Park in Malvern for some laughs.
The Winter’s Tale is running for six more shows from the 13th-20th of March. Tickets are selling quick so grab them before they sellout.
**As this is in an outdoor setting and Melbourne weather is so unpredictable, do remember to rug up and bring along lots of pillows and blankets to beat the Melbourne cold – don’t repeat my mistakes!