The Winter’s Tale is an odd play at the best of times, what with its sixteen year gap and massive shift in tone between acts. It can only get odder if you imagine it through the eyes of a child. And that’s exactly what you can find at the Regent’s Park Open air Theatre right now.
Re-imagined for people ages 6 and up, The Winter’s Tale is a real treat for families. The play is, of course, cut down and simplified for kids, but that’s not to say the play is just simple and nor does it speak down to its audience. Shakespeare’s rich language is still present as is the jealousy, cruelty and death of the first act. The magic and festivities of the second are also handled with aplomb. What this production does wonderfully is hit the middle ground between being silly and serious.
As I said, the play is a bit problematic itself in the way that the first act is generally much more somber than the second, and especially with this production I found that it wasn’t until the second act that it really hit its stride. There were hints of the madness to come right from the outset, with happy-go-lucky dance moves, pop-culture references and a great visual gag involving a boat, but it really isn’t until the second act that it all comes together.
Beginning with the bizarre sheep shearing contest which was, in this case, realised quite magnificently, the second act seems to relish in the sheer absurdity of it all and is much stronger for it. The visual gags really come into their own and the performances also take off.
For me, the highlight though, was the audience! Kids absolutely loved this show and their reactions and interactions were just as entertaining as the show itself. It’s just excellent hearing some of the stuff that kids come out with. At one point, just as the notorious bear attack is looming near, one kid near us ominously said ‘He’s gunna die…’ and then burst into laughter when the fated attack happened! At another point we were all encouraged to call out ‘Sheer the sheep! Sheer the sheep!’ but some mischievous children behind us were instead shouting ‘Eat the sheep!’ and there was even one rather macabre little boy calling out ‘SKIN THE SHEEP!’ One final moment of note was watching an entire block of tiny children reenacting the Gangnam Style dance routine.
The performances are fun and easy, with a stand out performance by Dean Nolan. In general they handle the Shakespeare in a clear and concise way and switch nicely but simply between multiple characters. The show never really hits any of the play’s emotional highs, but instead is a wonderfully fun and rather silly afternoons entertainment. I’d highly recommend seeing it, if not just to enjoy the children’s reactions to the insanity on stage.
The show is on until the 20th of July and more info can be found here.