Director Jennifer Sarah Dean has taken a myriad of performative, visual, and musical elements and fashioned from them a perfectly pleasant reason to enjoy some outdoor theatre at dusk in Central Park in Malvern East.
Performing outdoors can be tricky as its quite easy for the open air – with no artificial walls, floor, or ceiling – to swallow up an actor’s vocals. However, while some of the meanings woven into the wonderfully rich text might have been not grasped immediately, what was certain was that not a single line from any of the actors was lost.
The ensemble did good work telling a story that shifted locations and leapt time periods. While painting and stitching each character’s name (even the baby in her swaddling clothes!) is an understandable gimmick (and in the case of characters in disguise having their name temporarily as “NOT” their real name – brilliant), what would really be helpful would be having each characters’ role, status, and relationship to the other characters out there somehow.
But, as wide as Polixenes’ tie is, for example, it’s unlikely Aislinn Naughton’s costume design would have room enough for all that fine print. Indeed, for all the changes in time and place across the play, the costumes (a sort of mid-40s UK end of war / post war mix of long thick coats, informal suits, and working-class overalls with a hanky on the head Hilda Ogden style) were well done and consistent throughout.
Considering all the elements thrown in – multiple musical numbers (three in a row before the play finally starts proper) from the 1940s to the present day, multiple accents, sitcom theme songs, lines from other Shakespeare plays, slapstick, squeaks, yoinks, and other moments of histrionic oddness that you’d be forgiven for wondering if the Director or Choreographer were allergic to two or more people having a grounded conversation – each member of the cast committed excellently to their roles as the action strove forward.
Emma Austin (Clown), Jessica Barton (Dion), Melanie Gleeson (Hermoine), May Jasper (Time), Elizabeth Slattery (Paulina), Bridget Sweeney (Camillo), and Erin McIntosh (Perdita) all gave standout performances, eliciting no shortage of laughs or sentiment from a captivated audience.
I used to think I had a problem with the ending of Much Ado About Nothing with how Shakespeare gets so close to the end before barely remembering to tie up the Don John subplot but having witnessed the end of The Winter’s Tale – with it’s 16 year gap of grief, isolation, reconciliation wrapped up in a couple of lines – I no longer have a complaint.
Despite the narrative sprint here, cast and crew do well in keeping things together, so instead of a bewildered expression you leave the park with a smile firmly on your face.
The Winter’s Tale
Central Park, 148 Burke Road, Malvern East
Performance: Saturday 6 March 2021
Season continues to 20 March 2021
Information and Bookings: www.melbourneshakespeare.com
Image: Emma Austin and Tref Gare feature in The Winter’s Tale – courtesy of Melbourne Shakespeare Company
Review: David Collins