Tale in two halves takes weird direction, pursued by a bear
IT may be one of the lesser known of Shakespeare's plays, but 'The Winter's Tale' has possibly the most famous stage direction in dramatic history: "Exit, pursued by a bear".
The line points to the strangeness of this play and its sometimes jarring juxtaposition of zany comedy and bleak drama.
The William Shakespeare of this play was the Martin McDonagh of his day; unafraid to interrupt a happy ending with a reminder that one of the characters has been "torn to pieces with a bear".
For the most part, though, the play operates in two halves: the first is a reprisal of 'Othello', in which one king suddenly succumbs to raving paranoia over suspicions that his wife is pregnant by his best friend, king of another territory.
Director Andy Hinds gives these scenes something of the look of 'Reservoir Dogs', with men in black suits trading in insult, threats of violence and deception.
The second half is an indulgent, magical romance, and Hinds has this look more like 'High School Musical'.
It is a clever way to tackle the abrupt change in pace of the play. The cast deliver an energetic production, but all too often that energy overwhelms the text: highly-charged actors deliver speeches in which their intent is all too clear, but their understanding of individual lines is not.
Chris JJ Heaney is impressive as Leontes, but allows for little variation in pitch. Dick Tobin, meanwhile, is wonderful as the comic old shepherd.
The production is long, at three hours, and not always clear. But Hinds captures something of the ethereal strangeness in it, and that is appropriate on this winter's night.