Shakespeare’s tale of sexual jealousy and loving reconciliation can require a leap faith from audiences buying into its fable-like mix of royal intrigue, psychological delusion, prophetic oracles, pastoral pleasures and miraculous resurrection.
Eva Feiler and Keir Charles in The Winter's Tale at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Photo: Mark Douet
So it’s heartening to read in the programme for associate director Paul Miller’s compelling new production that ‘faith’ was the company’s watchword throughout the rehearsal process, reflecting Paulina’s line during the play’s happy ending where she breathes life into the statue of grief-stricken Leontes’ dead queen Hermione: “It is required you do awake your faith.”
It’s just as heartening to see how, without any trendy contextual clutter, Miller manages to awake the play’s central themes, and handle its sudden switch in tone during the second act, by remaining true to the text and by trusting his actors to deliver it with complete conviction and crystal clarity.
There’s plain honesty in Simon Daw’s design too - a bare floorboard performance area, one main upstage entrance, the minimum of props, simple but immaculate Ruritanian costumes. And Mark Doubleday’s lighting - hot and focused for the festering court intrigues in Sicilia; warm and gorgeous for the healing climes of Bohemia - only enhances the overarching no-frills minimalist approach.
Over the course of the play the actors may have to veer between lyrical speeches, psychological melodrama, low comedy and rural otherworldliness, but the entire company, led by Daniel Lapaine as Leontes, Claire Price as Hermione and Jonathan Firth as Polixenes, seem to delight in taking the audience with them on their irresistible journey into a Shakespearean fairytale for grown-ups.