Following on from their production of 'Julius Caesar' in 2008, could Classic Stage Ireland follow that triumph with another masterful retelling of the Bard’s work? The answer, in its simplest expression, is an overwhelming YES. Under the direction of Andy Hinds, the company have produced an engaging, exuberant and thoroughly satisfying interpretation that boasts many fine performances.
At three hours long, one thinks in terms of a 'weighty endeavour' and how the cast will deal with subtleties and nuances of the text. Such worries were never an issue - a testament to cast and crew - but also to the structure of the play - insofar as it moves from psychological drama to happy ending.
In the first half, the actions of a jealous husband Leontes (Heaney), spurred on by insane paranoia, brings about death and much sorrowful reflection, while Act II sees the dead come back to life and unions realised. All’s well that end’s well. The spring has finally arrived, and so the dark thoughts that pervaded the long evenings have given way to a re-birth.
The original score by Colm Morris and Miriam Ingram, while sparingly used to reflect the sense of unease in Act I, is a character in itself thereafter - a joyous accompaniment to the romantic story that is not without its chicanery, amid the shepherds, much song and dance (hats off to the choreography here) and buried treasure.
The action takes place in an almost empty space, with Hinds giving the ensemble a free hand to find their own zone and work within it. This was nicely achieved by the athleticism of Andy Blaikie in portraying the young prince Mamilliius. Indeed, this Australian actor also showed well as the wandering rogue Autolycus, with a penchant for thievery. The performances of Dick Tobin, as the shepherd, and Michael Wallace, as his clown of a son, also add to the light-hearted, bucolic mood of Act II.
Others worth mentioning are Lisa Thurman, as the strong minded Paulina, John O’Donoghue, as her sensitive husband Antigonus and Neil Hogan (commanding voice), as the good servant Camillo.
Chris JJ Heaney excels as the tormented Leontes, enveloped in the black mist, and equally impressive was Audrey McCoy, who added much grace and poise to Queen Hermoine.
Hind’s 'The Winter’s Tale' is a terrific success and, while the play has been considered one of Shakespeare’s 'problem plays' (both halves seemingly at odds with each other), nothing appeared problematic in this production, with the ensemble completely at ease at all times. One could think of worse ways to wile away a winter’s evening.