The Winter’s Tale at The Crucible, Sheffield

The dark nights are drawing in and it is thus more than apt that The Winter’s Tale has just opened at Sheffield’s theatre in the round The Crucible.

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William Shakespeare’s play has, of course, nothing to do with winter. A winter’s tale, as referred to in the title, is simply a dark tale – possibly a scary tale which was told to pass the long wintry evenings. And whilst The Winter’s Tale does have its dark side these are more than made up for by an abundance of fun and joy.

I adore Shakespeare but The Winter’s Tale has always been one of my very favourites from the bardic canon. I liked it so much that I wrote and performed a one man play, Julio Romano, atop the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square that was about some of the minor characters in the play. Surely you remember that? I’ll never forget it – my papier mache masks blowing every where and the drunken crowd shouting that they couldn’t hear me. Yet despite all that I do still love The Winter’s Tale and Paul Miller’s production at the Crucible shows just how brilliant this play can be when done well.

In reality it is a play in two halves. The first half very dark, brooding and angry. It is a tragedy of jealousy to rival that of Othello. Leontes, King of Sicilia, is driven crazy by false jealousy and destroys all around him leading, so we are led to believe, to the death of his son, his wife and his baby daughter.

But, as is often the case with Shakespeare, things aren’t always as they seem. The second half is a much lighter affair – a roister doistering romp of a comedy in which we find that the daughter has survived after all. Can Leontes be cured of his madness, can King and heir be reunited? This is Shakespeare – what do you think? The second half, the comedy half, also contains lots of song and dance and brilliant set pieces around a topiary sheeps head. It is as beautiful to the eye as the words are to the soul.

The ending itself is incredibly moving – I can never watch it without a manly tear in my eye. It needs to be done subtly, with sympathy or else it could seem pathetic but the Crucible cast strike exactly the right note. I won’t reveal the ending but it is well worth seeing.

The cast are wonderful – especially Daniel Lapaine as a raging Leontes and Kirsty Oswald as a frightfully alluring Perdita. Special praise must go to the multi role performance of Patrick Walshe McBride – the young man has real comic timing and presence, he should go far in such roles.

The Winter’s Tale is sometimes called a ‘problem play’ as it is hard to classify – being part tragedy, part romance and part comedy. But the only problem is if you can’t get a ticket for this spectacular production. It is heart warming, life affirming stuff. If you haven’t loved Shakespeare before then this will change your mind.

It’s been a good season for my theatre jaunts for The Winter’s Tale gets a well deserved five tortoise shell rating! It runs at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 2nd November. Catch it while you can – and don’t forget to watch out for the bear!

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Le Tour de France in Yorkshire!

The Tour de France arrives in Yorkshire in July 2014, and of course Tortoise Soup will be there to comment on it! The route of the Tour de Yorkshire was announced today and as a native of God’s own county myself please allow me to point out some of the highlights coming the cyclists’ way.

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Yorkshire is a county of contrasts – large industrial conglomerations built upon now defunct steelworks and coalmines where towns and cities blend seamlessly one into another; beautifully bleak moorlands full of purple gorse and heather bushes; historic cities where Romans and Vikings have left their mark.

The Yorkshire people themselves are perhaps the greatest attraction: famously stingy, maybe, but we have warm hearts hidden beneath our dour exteriors and a self deprecating sense of humour. We have a saying: “Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred, strong in arm and thick in ‘ead.” One thing that is for sure though is that if you do visit us for the tour you will get a very warm welcome indeed.

Stage one, the ‘Grand Depart’, runs from Leeds to Harrogate. Leeds is the largest city in Yorkshire and is a shoppers paradise with famous stores like Harvey Nicholls rubbing shoulders with Victorian era shopping arcades full of quaint little shops. En route to Harrogate the Tour will pass through the North Yorkshire Moors and the village of Hawes.

Hawes is much nicer than it sounds. It is a principal town of the Yorkshire Dales and is home to the world famous Wensleydale cheese so loved by Wallace and Gromit. The cyclists could do worse than stop off for a bite of its creamy crumbling loveliness.

The route also takes the cyclists through Haworth (confusingly pronounced ‘Howarth’), once home of the Bronte Sisters: Charlotte, Anne and Emily. It is an eerily beautiful village, although constantly thronged with tourists, and it is easy to imagine the ghosts of Cathy and Heathcliff stalking across the barren wind battered moors that lay all around. It is astonishing to think that such a small and desolate place produced three such incredible talents and, in my view, the greatest book of all time: ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The Depart will stop departing at Harrogate. This spa town was famous for its healing waters in the nineteenth century but the main attraction now is Betty’s Tea Rooms, home to the greatest collection of cakes in the northern hemisphere.

Stage two, on Sunday 6th July 2014, will run from York to Sheffield. What can I say about York other than that it is the ‘must visit’ English destination after London itself. The streets are full of museums, and one street is almost a living museum itself: ‘The Shambles’ where the ancient houses almost collapse into each other in wonderfully haphazard manner. I don’t envy the cyclists procession down York’s many cobbled roads, I hope that they have padded cycling shorts on! The Jorvik museum faithfully recreates York as it once was: a Viking town. And there is much of the Viking still living in Yorkshire today – the red haired youngsters running around will talk excitedly about ‘laiking’ (playing) in ‘snickets’ (alleyways) – both of them ancient Viking words that have fallen out of use elsewhere. The Romans have also left their mark on York – indeed the Roman emperor Constantine who converted Rome to Christianity and changed the course of the world was actually born in York!

From York the cyclists will head out onto a very gruelling and demanding stage: through the Pennine hills and moorland, up and down all the way. The views will be beautiful, if only the cyclists had enough breath left to take it in. En route they will head through the little Pennine town of Holmfirth: famous the world over (even in France) as the home of ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’. Let us hope that the ghost of Compo doesn’t come hurtling past them in a tin bath on wheels.

After Holmfirth the Tour reaches Huddersfield where in the last Century your Tortoise Soup blogger went to University and learnt all that he knows. There is no statue of me there as yet, so ride on cyclists, ride on.

From Huddersfied the tour continues its tortuous wind through the hills and valleys towards South Yorkshire. It will pass through the pretty, hilltop village of Thurgoland. Thurgoland has two wonderful pubs: quintessentially Yorkshire (i.e. warm and welcoming) with great views across the moors towards Lancashire. At one of these pubs you might be lucky enough to bump into Nicky Holland, author of the lovely children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ (news on its publication will be coming very soon). I live in a little village just a handful of miles from Thurgoland, and will be heading up there early in the morning to get a good view. If you do happen to see me, then do remember that I quite like a draught of cider.

From Thurgoland the route heads into the industrial heart of South Yorkshire, passing through Hillsborough where the cyclists will bow their heads at the memory of the 96 who died in the terrible football tragedy of 1989.

The Tour de Yorkshire will then reach its climax in the city of Sheffield. Once renowned worldwide for its steel making the foundries have now all but disappeared but the city now has another export: music. Famous bands and singers to hail from the city range from Joe Cocker and Human League, through Cabaret Voltaire, ABC, Def Leppard and Heaven 17 to Pulp and Richard Hawley. Sheffield is also home to probably a thousand charity shops (it certainly feels that way), so have a browse around and pick up a bargain.

So please do come and visit Yorkshire during the Tour: I promise that it will be full of fun and full of a real ‘Joie de vivre’. Will I be taking part? Oh no, I do love two wheels but I prefer mine to have an engine driving them rather than pedals. I am in awe of what the cyclists, Bradley Wiggins et al, do and am so excited that I will be able to witness it at close hand! If you want any advice on Yorkshire, where to stay or what to do, then please feel free to contact me!