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World Première of ‘A Winter’s Tale’, showing at the Landor Theatre, Clapham

Updated on February 22, 2013
5 stars for A Winter's Tale at the Landor Theatre

Presented by Arion Productions Ltd in association with the Landor Theatre and generously supported by Faber Music Ltd and PBJ Management

Music and Lyrics by Howard Goodall Book by Nick Stimson

Developed and Directed
by Andrew Keates

(Inspired by ‘The Winter’s Tale’ by William Shakespeare)

Review by Fiona Lister

‘A Winter’s Tale’ is the most absorbing, heart-rending musical I have seen since ‘Les Misérables’. Produced by Arion Productions Ltd and directed by Andrew Keates, Shakespeare’s psychological drama about injustice, madness, jealousy, duplicity, loss, redemption and youth (to name a few themes) has at last been adapted and coloured with the most beautiful musical score by award-winning composer Howard Goodall CBE. The result is a dream-like sequence of powerful, dark, emotional opening scenes that flow through the main veins of the story until they reach the light in Act Two.

Act One leaves you on the edge of your seat. The intense emotion and brilliant cast dynamics are enthralling. The plot begins when Sicilian King Leontes (Peter Gallagher) invites his childhood friend King Polixines of Bohemia (Alastair Brookshaw) to stay in Sicilia as his guest. Peter Gallagher gives a sensational performance as the control freak King who convinced that his Queen Ekatarina (Helen Power) is having an affair with King Polixines falls into a spiral of jealousy, then paranoia and madness. When Ekatarina reveals her pregnancy news to the King, he rages and loses all control of his senses. He simply doesn’t believe she is carrying his child and protests that it must be illegitimate. Pete Gallagher is frighteningly convincing as the mad King who strides about the stage incandescent with rage and loathing. The result is terrifying and you will be well and truly drawn into the crazy court’s world of horrors. Alastair Brookshaw, who looks a little bit like Alfie Boe, is terrific in the role of Polixines and gives a strong performance as the perplexed best friend who escapes a poisoning. Nothing can persuade the King of his wife’s fidelity and thus he unjustly damns his poor queen to a life of hell. I won’t reveal too much more of the first Act since I don’t want to spoil it for those who are not familiar with the original story, but it’s a chilling tale.

Helen Power in the role of Ekatarina steals the first act, giving a passionate, convincing performance of a woman pleading for her life and appealing to her husband’s sense of right and wrong. There is such a terrible feeling of hopelessness and the audience absorbs her despair, several of who were in tears (myself included). The injustice of her ridiculous plight is overwhelming, particularly when she’s dragged away by guards. There are some wonderful touches with the sound. Sarah Weltman (Sound Designer) has created the clink of a prison door and when King Leontes speaks his voice sounds haunting and booms. Director Andrew Keates has done everything to accentuate the full impact of the drama and it works in spades. Cressida Carré’s musical staging and interpretation of each scene is incredibly clever. There is never a time when characters are just standing about – there is fluid movement right the way through this production. Subtle touches such as the ensemble whispering and swaying in unison produces a haunting effect. Every ounce of this production breathes a ghostly magic. The set design by Martin Thomas and Lighting Design by Howard Hudson are also ingenious, as are Philippa Batt’s costume designs (in particular I love the Russian themed look in the King’s court).

Helena Blackman gives a wonderful performance as Paulina, Ekatarina’s best friend, who also becomes a victim of the King’s cruelty. Helena Blackman’s steely character suffers terrible loss and she ultimately becomes the pin holding scenes together, a little like a storyteller. Blackman strikes a careful balance between Paulina’s anger and understanding in a situation that for many would give rise to hatred more than any other emotion. Catherine Mort in the role of Emilia, lady-in-waiting to Ekatarina, gives another sound performance, most notably in musical number “The Tyranny of a Lie” sung with Helen Power and Helena Blackman. By the second half of the production any anger seeps away as revelations unfold igniting feelings of regret and hope.

Christopher Blades is brilliant as Camillo, the King’s truth-teller, servant and the link between two kingdoms. Lovely also to see Denis Delahunt return to the Landor Theatre after his highly acclaimed performance as the Dickensian looking Chairman in the Rupert Holmes musical ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’, earlier this year. Delahunt plays the role of shepherd Melik and gives an animated, engaging performance, particularly in Act Two. Fra Fee and Abigail Matthews are charming as the love-struck peasant couple Florizel and Perdita and there’s a hilarious moment where Ciaran Joyce (Rob) sings a song about um err ‘Sheep’. Other mentions must be made to David Brewis (Mamillius); Gareth James Healey (Zeki & Ensemble); Joe McCourt (Prosecutor & Ensemble); Ross Barnes (Antigonus); Lauren McGloan (Mopsa & Ensemble); Rachael-Louise Miller (Dorcas & Ensemble); Matthew Ronchetti (Gaoler & Ensemble); Raymond Walsh (Cleomenes & Ensemble) and…. Stage Manager (Will Mauchline).

The melodies and subtle touches of choral works throughout this production sound divine. Musical numbers “The Tyranny of a Lie” and “Precious Child” are particularly special. Musical Director and Supervisor George Dyer (Piano) is accompanied by Daisy Fancourt (Second Keys), Stefan Knapik (Cello) and Rohit Nijhawan (Guitar). They sound like a much grander ten piece band in the intimate space of the Landor. I couldn’t help but wonder what this would sound like produced on a West End stage. The lyrics and harmonies are out of this world. This production fully deserves more development and a West End run. It’s completely original, captures the senses and Howard Goodall’s composition is totally distinct and unique. The award-winning composer and broadcaster is best-known for composing choral music, film and television scores as well as musical theatre. Most notably, Howard Goodall is known for writing theme tunes including: ‘Blackadder’, ‘Mr Bean’, ‘Q.I.’ and ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. Goodall is the recipient of EMMY, BRIT and BAFTA awards. Theatregoers sat enthralled watching his musical ‘The Hired Man’ (novel by Melvyn Bragg), which was revived at the Landor Theatre in 2011 (also directed by Andrew Keates). The production won ‘Best Musical Production’ in the 2012 Awards.

Arion Productions under the stewardship of Andrew Keates, Arion’s Artistic Director, is producing some exciting new work - back in August this year he produced the highly acclaimed ‘Passing By’ by Martin Sherman at the Finborough Theatre. Andrew worked as Theatre Manager at the Landor Theatre for two years producing award-winning shows, including winning awards for his production of Howard Goodall’s ‘The Hired Man’.

Taking Shakespeare’s play (first published in the First Folio of 1623) and turning the pages of this glorious story of madness and extreme jealousy into a musical is surely a complex process. The dialogue in ‘A Winter’s Tale’ is anything but Shakespearean and there are no “Prithees” or “Hey nonny, nonnies”. This is a modern interpretation of a fascinating parable. Nick Stimson’s book has been skillfully developed by Director Andrew Keates who has successfully retained the Shakespearean essence of the play but enriched the full impact of the drama. Andrew draws on the extreme variations in theme, mood and characterisation with the use of clever choreography and musical staging by Cressida Carré to tell this devastating story of wrongdoing. The unfolding parable of youth and redemption is perfectly captured – from the dramatic, dark wintery palace scenes in Act One to the sunshine-filled peasant dance scenes signifying light, redemption and romance in Act Two.

‘A Winter’s Tale’ is the perfect show to watch during the cold dark evenings. The variations in harmonies, the treatment of Shakespeare’s original play and the strong cast dynamics makes this a captivating production and one that with more development should have a West End run. Gorgeous. Five stars (bordering on five and a half). Don’t miss this one. Whatever you do, get over to the Landor Theatre and watch this phenomenal new production.

Wednesday 7th November - Saturday 1st December 2012
At The Landor Theatre, Clapham North
Please telephone the Landor Theatre for further information on: 020 7737 7276

Performance Dates & Times:

Wednesday 7th - Sun 11th November 2012 (Preview Performances)
Monday 12th November 2012 @ 7.30pm (Press Night)
Tuesday - Thursday & Saturday (Evening Performances 7.30pm)
Friday (Evening Performances 7pm)
Saturday & Sunday (Matinees 3pm)

Tickets £18 (Concessions £15)

£10 Student Tickets (Please note, that student tickets are only available via telephone bookings or at the box office in person, provided that a valid student card is presented with photo ID. Only 1 x ticket per student. Group bookings are available for educational institutions.


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