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.

winterstale

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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Culture On The Big Screen

As my Tortoise Soup followers know, I am somewhat of a culture vulture. Give me a book to read, a play to watch or an aria to listen to and a broad smile spreads across my face. I blame a surfeit of culture for the ‘laughter lines’ that seem to be growing daily around the corners of my eyes.

I love to see live performances: whether it be drama or musicals at the theatre or opera and ballet in opera houses. Well now there is another way for you to enjoy a dose of the arts, and I heartily recommend it to you all: culture on the big screen.

Last week I went to watch the final performance of ‘The Last Of The Hausmanns’ at the National Theatre. This is the debut play from the pen of Simon Beresford and it has been a phenomenal success. I loved every minute of it, people were laughing heartily and at the end the audience around me stood as one to applaud the excellent cast led by the ever wonderful Julie Walters. During the interval, people popped into the auditorium for a drink and a light snack, or stayed in their seats reading a programme. I wasn’t at the National Theatre in London however, I was in the Cineworld movie complex two hundred miles to the north in Sheffield.

Once the lights have dimmed and the ‘action’ commences, you quickly become embroiled in the production itself. It is easy to forget that you are in a cinema so that when the lights come up again it is a relief to find that you don’t have to join the frantic throng heading towards the Embankment tube station.

Watching theatre at the cinema has several advantages: the seats are often cheaper, and all afford an excellent view; there is no need to book accommodation or spend money on transport; there is a more relaxed, informal, atmosphere; there is no need to book in advance to procure a ticket. For all of these reasons and more watching culture at the cinema can be ideal for beginners: a perfect introduction to the genre for people who haven’t previously experienced live drama, opera or ballet.

There are a growing number of cinemas that screen culture throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, both chains and independents. To feed the increased demand for cinematic culture, many companies are now providing live screenings or recordings of previously filmed events. I have provided links to some of these companies below:

The National Theatre:

http://microsites.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ntlive

The Royal Opera House:

http://cinema.roh.org.uk/

There are also regular screenings of ballet from Russia’s legendary Bolshoi Ballet and from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, so please do keep an eye on your local cinema’s listings.

So the next time that you feel the need for an oversized bucket of popcorn, why not settle back into your seat and watch some of the greatest theatre, opera and ballet in the world all for the same price of a ticket to see Final Destination 10?

The Play’s The Thing

“The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” Hopefully, you will recognise that as a quote from Hamlet. Well soon, I hope to catch the attention, not perhaps of a King, but certainly of a good number of discerning theatre goers with my very own play ‘Rudisha’!

Don’t worry, lovers of children’s literature – my debut children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ is still priority number one but whilst I wait for a good offer from a publisher or agent (I have already turned one offer down, but there are two more considering my book at the moment) I have turned my hand to the theatre. I hate to be seen as self-publicising but hey, that’s what blogs are for. It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to announce that my short play Rudisha will be given two performances in London on 1st September.

I have always loved the theatre. They are magical environs where dreams and reality converge, where unreality and imagination take control for two or three glorious hours. When I was a student my appetite for drama was insatiable. I would spend every spare hour reading any collection of plays that I could find: Ibsen, Chekhov, Dario Fo, Strindberg, Brecht, Wilde, Sean O’Casey dominated my thoughts. I dreamed of being a great modern dramatist like them, revolutionising the theatre through the power of my mind alone.

Well that dream has yet to bear fruition but at least next Saturday I will see my words brought to life by an enthusiastic team of actors, and that in itself will give me an enormous sense of achievement.

‘Rudisha’ is being performed as part of a festival of theatre in the Olympic borough of Newham designed to coincide with the Paralympics. The festival plays examine big issues such as faith and community and multi-culturalism in modern London. My play tells the story of Daniel, a young man from a Kenyan family who dreams of running in the Olympics like his hero David Rudisha. His world is collapsing around him as his grandmother lies dying while Rudisha tries to break the world record in the Olympic stadium just streets away.

Auditions have taken place, and rehearsals are now under way. I would like to take a greater hand in this part of the production but unfortunately I am detained up north so I have to leave things in the capable hands of my director Manos. I will be there for the performances of course, and I hope that the skilled team of actors and director will bring my words to life in the way that I had imagined them. Most of all, of course, I hope that the audience enjoys my play. For one lucky playwright there will be a commission to write a full length play to be performed in London next year – I am ready, willing and able for that opportunity! I have been ready for it for the last twenty years.

If you are in London that day then please come along. The plays will be performed at the Swift Centre Theatre on Barking Road, Newham on Saturday 1st September. There is a matinee at 1430 and an evening show at 1930 and best of all it is completely free!

I adore the theatre, why not share your thoughts on the theatre with me and my blog’s readers? What is your favourite play? There are too many for me to single one out but my shortlist would have to include King Lear, The Ghost Sonata, Shadow Of A Gunman and The Importance Of Being Earnest. All very different and all very wonderful. Comment away, my friends.