Daily Mail review - Red Rose Chain

Daily Mail review

Who says Shakespeare’s not funny?! Why this Winter’s Tale in the woods is perfect summer fare…

The Winter’s Tale (Theatre In The Forest, Suffolk)

Verdict: Perfect for a midsummer’s night


We could be in Shakespeare’s Arden. On a dreamy midsummer’s night, we wander across a meadow to assemble in a grove of sweet chestnut and silver birch trees for The Winter’s Tale, the rain magically holding off for this open-air production in the timeless setting of Sutton Hoo, the burial ground in Suffolk of an Anglo-Saxon king.

The play is notorious for shifting, not always comfortably, between tragedy and comedy. The Rose Chain Theatre Company of Ipswich (in its summer guise as the Theatre In The Forest) ensures it’s the comedy that conquers. There is some public debate at present on whether or not Shakespeare is ever funny. This production gives an emphatic answer: yes.

An exuberant, energetic young cast plays it for pantomime laughs, ad-libbing and slap-sticking and interacting with a vocal audience (kids, young and old) happy to join in. But they switch seamlessly into the serious and the sad, faithful to the text in conveying the jealousy and hatred that are central to the plot.

There are just eight actors but they fill the impromptu woodland stage, doubling and even trebling up to play all the parts. With minimal scenery (but lots of props, including some ingenious puppets) it is as if a troupe of travelling players has breezed in to entertain us, flitting on and off, changing costumes and characters.

I loved their versatility. Vincent Moisy excels as an angry Leontes, then excels again as a dancing sheep! The virtuous Hermione (Emily Jane Kerr) is also the rogue Autolycus, Paulina (Ailis Duff) also the shepherd.

My only lament is that they lost the solemnity of Shakespeare’s ending, with its profound themes of remorse, redemption and resurrection — opting instead for a cheery sing-along of ‘You always hurt the one you love’.

Then again, since that perfectly sums up what the play is all about, perhaps this was a fitting finale. If imaginative directing helps to make complex but rewarding plays like this accessible and understandable, what’s to complain about?

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