The Winter’s Tale – National Theatre

By Ben Ayaydin

The Winter’s Tale is back at the National Theatre following a sell out run in 2018.

The story takes place in a modern contemporary setting. ‘Perdita is a brave, intelligent and much-loved girl, but something is not quite right in her world. Join her on a journey through magic and mayhem as she uncovers her story – the girl who was once lost and then found’.

The narrative is simple enough for younger audiences to grapple, whilst maintaining its Shakespearian flair and style. Building on from this, the play features elements of comedy as well as tragedy, making it a perfect entry point to Shakespeare due to the accessibility of the story.

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The actors were fantastic, with their delivery and performances breathing life into their characters. As well as this, their engagement with the audience lent itself well to the realism, enjoyment and immersive experience created.

The use of puppetry was very creative and enhances the experience for the predominantly younger audience. The use puppets add an interesting dynamic to the play both for comic relief, as well as adding a personal touch and propelling the story further. Another engaging element implemented by the play is the use of song and dance. I think this is utilised effectively and further increases the accessibility for the audience.

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The set is very minimalist, with just a circular platform in the centre, however I think this lends itself well to the setting in the Dorfman Theatre. The audience are seated on all four sides of the stage, giving the play a more intimate and personal feeling. Also, the lighting and sound effects really amplified the experience of the play and is a further example of how the play uses modern effects to help engage with a young audience.

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Furthermore, the costumes were bright and distinctive for each character, allowing the younger members of the audience to remember and recognise the characters through a visual medium. This was a fantastic implementation due to Shakespearian names such as Polixenes and Leontes potentially being confusing and difficult to remember for a younger audience. The use of contemporary clothing also helped with the engagement of the younger audience, adding a real vibrancy into the production.

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Overall I think the play is a great entry point into Shakespeare, especially for younger audiences who may struggle with grappling the original texts. The use of a contemporary setting, colourful clothing and mixture of song and dance are fantastic additions in creating an immersive environment. Also, the use of Shakespearian language helps to ground the performance to Shakespeare’s original, with screens displaying the actors lines. This is a great touch in allowing the audience to follow what is happening and being said.

On the other hand, I feel that the use of Shakespearian language could also act as a barrier for younger audiences, with many young children perhaps finding it difficult to engage with the material when they don’t understand what is being said.

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Despite this, The Winter’s Tale is a great performance as an entry point for younger audiences and is great entertainment for all the family. While the language is Shakespearian, other elements of the play such as its strong visual emphasis, help to overcome any barriers younger audiences may find.  I think it is an interesting performance both for children and adults, providing an effective contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s work.

The Winter’s Tale, adapted by Justin Audibert and directed by Ruth Mary Johnson, is on at the National’s Dorfman Theatre from 6th – 21st February 2019.


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