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REVIEW: The Winter's Tale, Trinity Players, Holy Trinity, Stratford, 29th October

IT was the perfect weather (autumnal) and mood (pre-Halloween) for this joyous production of The Winter’s Tale.

The Trinity Players were formed in 2007, by the congregation and others, to make the most of the beautiful space that Holy Trinity offers.

It was of course the Shakespeare family’s parish church, and the playwright’s grave is a short skip and a jump from the main performance area.

To say it seems a little precocious for an amateur group (perhaps said with Lady Bracknell outrage) to perform his great works in such a sacred place is perhaps an understatement… But fear not, this fine troupe is more than up to the job.

Under the steady direction of Ursula Russell the light and shade of the mixed-genre play was skilfully evoked.

Appropriately enough for the season, The Winter’s Tale is of course a bit of a curious Frankenstein of a play. Bits of comedy are melded on to tragedy, and fairy tales are stuffed on to the rear end of historical drama as a romance unfolds.

It starts out well – in the happy kingdom of Sicilia, where King Leontes (Mark Spriggs) and his beautiful wife Hermione (Imogen Tong) await the birth of daughter Perdita (played as a young adult by Ellie Waters), a sister for beloved son Mamillius (Kade McDougall). But uh-oh the green-eyed king suffers a fit of jealousy, believing his friend Polixenes, the king of Bohemia (Michael Shanebeck) has the hots for his woman.

During a massive sulk Leontes has Hermione executed, despite the protestations of the wise Paulina (Margot McCleary, brilliant as always). So far so grim… But no worries Antigonus (a brilliantly enthusiastic Brian Russell) has dumped the baby Perdita, leaving her to grow up Sleeping Beauty-style with simple farming folk, mother and son Dame Elinor and William (played with great comic verve by Ruthie Copeman and George King)… Role on 16 years later and Bohemian prince Florizel (Paige Calvert) comes a’wooing the lovely Perdidta.

The dreaded Covid apparently scuppered some of the scenes and players – meaning they had to leave some bits out – the bear attack was sadly missed.

But this was more than made up for by some really splendid performances and stand-out scenes.

Spriggs played the paranoid king with absolute believability – turning from mad jealousy to sorrowful and humbled by the play’s end. Tong’s Hermione was equally compelling. The scene where she is a statue, perfectly lit, standing in the church’s gothic pulpit, was perfection. The whole thing was exquisitely beautiful and moving – never mind the absurdity of it all, I loved it.

Add the brilliant performances from all, including the young loves – such talent! – and the whole thing left this reviewer greatly warmed by this ancient human story as we headed out into the chill winter evening.

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