Beware of pursuing bears! In an attempt to bring Shakespeare’s texts to children, The National Theatre presents a new version of The Winter’s Tale for young audiences. The result is a thrilling, absorbing show that gives both adults and children a clear understanding of the play and a strong feel of the original.
For many people Shakespeare can be a challenge. Dramaturg Justin Audibert does a stellar job of creating a clear narrative throughout; cutting around two hours from the original play and rearranging it so that many of Shakespeare’s amazing characters and beautiful language remain, yet the story itself is concise and understandable.
Blind casting means the hugely talented company of actors are allowed to play characters beyond usual casting constraints of age, gender, dialect and ethnicity. This may be some children’s first experience of theatre and the fact that they get to see it as a reflection of society at large is so valuable and a welcome departure from the idea that Shakespeare is old fashioned and outdated.
The aim behind the scenes seems to be to make the show as interesting and exciting as possible. Ruth Mary Johnson’s direction unearths some original comedy moments, and Jonathan Girling’s lyrical storytelling, combined with an imaginative physical use of the space by movement director Lucy Cullingford, keeps the audience thoroughly engaged. Designer Lucy Sierra proves extensive set design is not always necessary, aiding the narrative by using a simple, yet inventive layout. Costumes are bright and colourful, with Paul Knott’s lighting states adding a greater pop of colour to the stage and sound designer Mike Winship providing both modern and traditional effects. The decision to have Maximillius portrayed by a puppet (designed beautifully by Sam Wyer), is inspired and removes any difficulty that may arise from having a child actor on stage.
The Winter’s Tale is not often a Shakespeare play that’s adapted for younger audiences; Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night etc, usually take preference. With its themes of jealousy, however, it’s important that children are introduced to the dangers and consequences of such an emotion, plus any Shakespeare production that includes the floss dance is one that deserves seeing. If only all Shakespeare plays were this interesting!