“Many a man there is”
The second part of Propeller’s current double bill is The Winter’s Tale and much as we did last year for The Comedy of Errors, Boycotting Trends and I (with bonus @3rdspearcarrier) trekked up to Sheffield to catch it early in the substantial tour that follows. It was a little sad but true that Henry V failed to live up to my (sky-high) expectations so I’d aimed for a better job of managing them this time round for this ‘problem play’.
Sicilia is all moon-lit stark, metallic edges, the dark candle-lit atmosphere matching the troubled mind of Leontes, whose tortured jealousy sends him into a frenzy that challenges a lifelong friendship, the will of the gods and the lives of his children and his dear wife Hermione. Robert Hands give his Leontes an anger that subtly builds rather than one that defines his character and thus we feel for him even in his most fevered moments and always see the husband and father that is being lost in the red mist of jealousy – this in turn makes it (slightly) more believable that Hermione might forgive him.
By contrast, Bohemia becomes a music festival of free love, flowers and fun. Most of Propeller’s trademark innovation comes into play here with Autolycus becoming an Iggy Pop-like cult figure complete with a back-up group of singing and dancing sheep, Beyoncé dance-offs and ridiculous disguises amusing all. In this world, the laughs come aplenty and the romance most sweetly captured by Ben Allen as Perdita whose connection with Finn Hanlon’s Florizel runs deeper than any class structure.
The shift back to Sicilia for the final act really does capture the heart of this interpretation which wears sadness heavy in its heart. The reconciliations of family and friends long torn asunder are beautifully played, but we’re not allowed to forget Paulina’s raw grief and the very last note is one of melancholy grace, calling back to the storytelling methods used throughout and making complete sense of them, and consequently packing the most unexpected emotional punch.
In a straight comparison, last year’s double bill does win for me. But this year’s does offer something different: altogether less musical this time round, the focus ends up being more on creating interpretations that speak loud and true and above all make sense (perhaps more easily achieved when avoiding the comedies). And for those who rail against their all-male policy, if you can watch Vince Leigh’s Paulina and simply see a man in a dress, then I am genuinely sad for you.