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The Winter's Tale and Henry V (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The innovative Propellor’s Spring tour combines Shakespeare’s bracing and jingoistic Henry V with the odd romantic tragicomedy The Winter’s Tale reflecting the The Bard’s one light, one heavy offering each season.

The inspired all-male Shakespeare company again gives the audience something to talk about with quirky take on well-loved pieces.

Director Edward Hall’s The Winter’s Tale is certainly a play of two halves.

Robert Hands is quietly psychotic as Leontes in a brooding descent into all-consuming jealousy in which he jettisons all that he holds dear –Hermione (a gracious Richard Dempsey), his ubiquitous ghostly PJ-clad son (Ben Allen), newborn daughter and dear friend Polixenes (a stately performance by Nicholas Asbury)– as a dominant moon is slowly eclipsed.

In stark contrast to the gothic darkness of Sicilia, Bohemia is an explosion of rustic charm, colour, comedy and sheep.

Designer Michael Pavelka sets the scene as a music festival complete with tents and trance-dance with music from the Bleatles and a ripped leather trouser-clad pickpocket and thong-seller Autolycus (Propellor stalwart Tony Bell who makes a superb strutting job of the gift of a part).

Hall has made Shakespeare’s odd piece fun and full of interesting comment such as having Allen playing his teenaged sister Perdita and a great handling of that infamous stage direction.

There’s slapstick, romance, intrigue and far-fetchedness but all quite watchable although there were some mutterings in the auditorium including the words ‘tedious’ and ‘ridiculous’. But then there are still some who prefer their Shakespeare in tights and big sleeves.

They would be disappointed too at the next offering as the nationalistic Henry V is replete with camouflaged, ripped and pumped soldiers who stand guard around the foyer before flooding onto the stark set to beg indulgence for the coming failures to display full battle scenes.

Instead Hall employs symbolic devices – buckets of blood, punchbags and axes severing wood instead of heads.

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart is a patriotic young king visibly grown from the idle playboy youth of Henry IV into a tour de force with the help of a boxful of balls courtesy of the French king (a mild John Dougall) and the fervent Dauphin (Gunnar Cauthery). Henry leads a fighting force – and Hall’s insistence on weeks of military training shows – on a controlled and successful rampage through France, leading by example and inspiring his troops with those infamous words (which are unfortunately sometimes lost under the rattle of gunfire).

Pavelka infuses the piece with tremendous atmosphere whether it is the night raid with torches, testosterone-fuelled skirmishes or punishment deftly and brutally meted out.

Attention to detail is superb and the xenophobia rife with Shakespeare’s effeminate French, weaselly Scots and leek-loving Welsh emphasised to bring light relief. Added to which is Katherine of France’s English lesson given humour by Karl Davies.

The company is musically gifted and here the patriotic songs, the Latin chants and even a swift rendition of The Clash’s London’s Calling are not confined to the stage as at the interval the cast continue in the bars in a bid to raise cash for Lifeworks.

I look forward to Propellor’s next outing.


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