Review: The Winter’s Tale

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Both inventive (when was the last time you saw a couple cosmonauts in a Shakespeare play?) and accessible, Studio 58 serves up a touching, sometimes funny but always entertaining production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

King Leontes, consumed with jealousy, accuses his pregnant wife Hermione of being unfaithful and carrying a bastard child from an adulterous affair with his best friend King Polixenes, Prime Minister of Bohemia.   Mad with rage, Leontes condemns Hermione to jail where she gives birth and is thought to have died.  Unable to accept the child, Perdita, as his own daughter, Leontes casts her into the wilderness in Bohemia where she is found and raised by shepherds.  During the intermission, we move forward sixteen years.

Leontes has come to his senses, grieving for the loss of both wife and daughter.  By chance though, Perdita has fallen in love with Polixenes’s son Florizel.  After escaping to Sicilia because Polixenes forbids them to wed, it is soon discovered that Perdita is the long lost daughter of Leontes.  In the final scene, a statue of Hermione is magically brought to life and the family is reunited.

Melissa Dionisio and Jay Clift in the Studio 58 production of The Winter's Tale
Melissa Dionisio as Hermione and Jason Clift as Polixenes in the Studio 58 production of The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale
is one of Shakespeare’s few romances where an injustice in act one is resolved in act two.   And it is this duality that is very successfully achieved in this production.  Director Anita Rochon, costumer Marina Szijarto, set designer Christopher David Gauthier and lighting designer Jonathan Ryder all work in perfect harmony transforming Sicilia into the oppressive cold war Soviet Russia with its blacks, greys and touches of reds, and a Bohemia full of life with its hippie love-in, complete with camper van and psychedelic costumes.  Composer and musical director Alison Jenkins adds the final touch with some great music choices.

While I would seldom characterize Shakespeare’s plays as easy (both for the actor and the audience), the complicated fairy tale Shakespeare has given us here is especially difficult given its sprawling story and large cast of characters.  Fortunately though, Director Anita Rochon has taken great pains to help her actors understand the text which ultimately helps to ensure the audience is not left behind.

Mike Wasko does especially well in moving Leontes through the various emotions of a King gone mad, grieving for the loss of his family when he realizes the errs of his way, and then finally one of relief as he comes to the knowledge, that despite his doing, they are all still alive.  And Shakespeare certainly doesn’t make this easy either when he throws Leontes into madness right from the beginning but, thankfully, Wasko is up to this challenge and is ultimately believable.

Melissa Dionisio as Hermione was spellbinding.  In particular, it was gut wrenching to watch as she emerged from jail to face the accusations from her husband and again as the forgiving wife and mother as she is awakened to be reunited with her family.  Given Dionisio’s performance in act one I was disappointed in knowing that once Hermione was thought to be dead we would not see here again until the very end of the play.

Other stand outs in this great cast include Kirsty Provan as Paulina the one person that attempts to stand up to Leontes and Benjamin Elliott as Autolycus, whose antics were at times inspired including a very funny scene as a courtier which had me smiling and thinking of Hugh Laurie in Blackadder.

Finally, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the diversity in the casting here.  I know I’ll probably take some heat from those that say the best should rule the day regardless of the colour of their skin, but I tend to agree with my friend DCJ – Vancouver’s stages can be mono-coloured.  Fortunately, as Studio 58 represents the future for theatre in this country, this is changing.  And that is a good thing.

With so many good shows on Vancouver’s stages right now it is tough to decide where to spend one’s ever dwindling entertainment dollar.  Fortunately though, for the quality of the production, ticket prices make it very affordable.  Go – see the talent that is being produced here – you will not be disappointed.

4 out of 5 StarsThe Winter’s Tale
Studio 58 at Langara College, 100 West 49th Avenue, Vancouver
Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm and 3pm matinees on Saturday & Sunday through December 13, 2009

Tickets are $11 – $20.50 and are available online at Tickets Tonight or by calling 604.684.2787.

Studio 58 will hold a pay-what-you-can benefit performance on Tuesday, December 1st with all proceeds going to the Eagle Bay Memorial Trust Fund in memory of Fergus Conway, Phoebe Conway and Azra Young who died in a fire in July.  Visit for more information.

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