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The Winters Tale

Why are there so many conflicts in the world? Perhaps too many viewpoints? Viewpoints can change over time through generations. What aspects can be simplified? What if you could view several perspectives at once, over the passage of time?

These are the tenets of the Cubism art movement – simplification of the material world through geometricity; overlapping and simultaneous views of an object; a conceptual rather than perceptual view of reality.

Director Paul Dean Gibson’s liberal use of Cubist concepts revives the latest Bard on the Beach production of The Winter’s Tale. Half tragedy, half comedy, this Shakespearean play does not often succeed at both.

The Winters Tale

Like fairies, half-human and half-divine, Gibson artfully re-crafts this fairy of a tale to be engaging for contemporary audiences.

Characters donning Cubist-style masks enjoy a simple and honest perspective of truth, while their unmasked counterparts are rooted in conflicted and narrowed visions of reality. 
 
Prince Mamillius of Sicilia quips that “a sad tale’s best for winter” (II.i.25) but is unaware of an impending tragedy. His father, King Leontes, is unsuccessful at persuading his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia to stay another week —until his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione intervenes.

The Winters Tale

Whether angry at his own failure or distrustful of his good fortunes, Leontes grows suspicious of his wife and his best friend. With irrational conviction, he orders Polixenes poisoned, Hermione imprisoned and their newborn daughter, Perdita, to be exiled and abandoned.

To justify his actions to his peers, Leontes seeks the advice of the sun-god Apollo through the Oracle at Delphi. However, when the Oracle exonerates everyone, Leontes borrows a move from Donald Trump by defying the decree and chooses an “alternative truth” instead.

In a time when gods and miracles exist, this move must have angered Apollo; Leontes loses his son, his wife and his daughter all in one day. The king’s madness lifts as the consequences of his actions gains him new perspective. He vows repentance until his wrongs are set right.

The Winters Tale

Through the passage of 16 years, from the halcyon shores of Bohemia, liberal allowances of love and magic will reunite kingdoms and families. 

Not since Bard’s 2015 steampunk-esque production of The Comedy of Errors has the crew’s behind-the-scenes efforts deserved so much praise, perhaps even more so than the cast.

This talented team’s not visible to the audience, however the craftsmanship of their work defines all the critical stratums of the show. Pam Johnson’s imposing Greco-Roman palace egresses to an idyllic Bohemian countryside.

Ben Elliott, Chris Cochrane Kevin MacDonald, Lois Anderson
[L to R: Ben Elliott, Chris Cochrane; Kevin MacDonald, Lois Anderson]

Coordinated, deliberate and meticulously hued lighting by Gerald King interprets mood, place and time. Sound designer Malcolm Dow composes a richly textured soundscape that layers the mysterious and sublime with the joyous and mischievous.

Rather than using laboured speeches, the play begins and ends with song and dance, choreographed by Tracey Power and Wendy Gorling. These segments offer both continuity and structure within a fantasy-like setting.

Carmen Alatorre’s sweeping, majestic costumes contrast with angular, abstract face masks. Her use of vibrant, yet distinctive colour palettes on Hellenic-inspired robes and bohemian garb help to contrast each kingdom.

David M. Adams, Chris Cochrane
[David M. Adams, Chris Cochrane]

Much kudos to the stage crew (Stephen Courtenay, Rebecca Mulvihill, Tanya Schwaerzle, Robinson Wilson) who have to juggle everything that happens with the set, props, actors and animals!

Sired from the artistry of Heidi Wilkinson and Frances Henry, the puppet animals – two bleeping sheep and a formidable bear – conjure awe and affection from the audience. The culmination of everyone’s collaboration is a luminous, enthralling conclusion to the show. 
 
Of course, sets, props and direction can only take a production so far. Every cast member sustaines a remarkable performance. Kevin MacDonald’s Leontes seethes with lucid lunacy opposite Sereana Malani’s eloquent, suffering Hermione.

Ashley O’Connell, Kaitlin Williams, Julien Galipeau
[Ashley O’Connell, Kaitlin Williams, Julien Galipeau]

Supporting characters Camillo (Laara Sadiq) and Paulina (Lois Anderson) are standouts in this production, as the sensible, courageous pillars in the maelstrom of injustice. Anderson’s Paulina is a tour de force, playing storyteller to the audience, counselor to the Leontes and magician to all.

No role is too small for Austin Eckert (Florizel), Kaitlin Williams (Perdita) and Andrew Wheeler (Antigonus), all of whom capitalize on their onstage time. Ben Elliott is a scene-stealer, injecting his own unmatched brand of unbridled zeal and slapstick as the harmless rogue, Autolycus.
 
At the end, Paulina repeats, “a sad tale’s best for winter”, but the seasons have changed and the time is ripe for redemption and rejuvenation. Gibson’s dexterous retelling of The Winter’s Tale is a foray into a realm where reality ends and imagination begins. What exquisite fun!
 
The Winter’s Tale continues on the Bard BMO Main Stage through September 22.

Photos by David Blue.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Her next big pursuit will be in the newly-introduced field of forensic linguistics.

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