Theatre reviews: The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet

A scene from Northern Broadsides' production of The Winter's Tale, at Harrogate Theatre. Picture: Nobby Clark
A scene from Northern Broadsides' production of The Winter's Tale, at Harrogate Theatre. Picture: Nobby Clark
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The Winter’s Tale, Harrogate Theatre, reviewed by Yvette Huddleston ****

Often referred to as one of Shakespeare’s problems plays – due to its marked shifts in tone from tragedy to comedy – The Winter’s Tale, as presented by Northern Broadsides, is anything but problematic.

There’s no denying the play’s sometimes jarring mood changes – there’s destructive jealousy, marriage breakdown, attempted murder and, famously, death by bear, alongside comic characters, mimicry, mistaken identity and a jolly sheep-shearing festival. But if any theatre company can handle these contradictions with grace and style it’s Northern Broadsides. And their production is a joy to watch.

Directed by Conrad Nelson (also in the role of misguided King Leontes who, wrongly suspecting his wife Hermione of adultery, condemns her and their newly born baby daughter to death), it benefits from a contemporary setting – the action begins on New Year’s Eve 1999 and brings us bang up to date with its 16-year narrative arch; a beautifully simple set by Dawn Allsop, and outstanding performances from a versatile cast who act, sing and dance, all to the exceptionally high standards we have come to expect from the company.

• To September 26; LBT Huddersfield, October 13-17, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough October 20-24, Viaduct Theatre Halifax, November 24-28.

Romeo and Juliet, Sheffield, Crucible, reviewed by Phil Penfold ****

Romeo is a lad’s lad, an impetuous youth, naughty and lusty. It is a popular misconception that Juliet, on the other hand, is demure. Nothing could be further from the truth – especially in the current account at the Crucible.

Morfydd Clark’s Juliet is proud, and vehement, and highly impatient. There are no simpers or silly blushes and she is no novice, either. Opposite Clark, we find, the lithe, svelte, street-wise little Romeo of Freddie Fox. It’s a remarkable and hugely satisfying pairing.

What Shakespeare demands is not verse speaking, but verse acting. You have to have character, the sound and the fury as well. And both Clark and Fox have it in abundance.

It is a wholly compelling revival (directed by Jonathan Humphreys) that is set in contemporary times on streets that frequently run with blood. It is a highly unpredictable world where there are few consolations or constants. There’s a surprising intimacy in this telling, and the auditorium is used to full advantage. Freddie Fox comes out and talks to the audience at points, a wide boy trying to explain himself, attempting to charm us with his explanations.

He makes him vulnerable, and absolutely plausible. And when Romeo is quiet, he still remains focused. It is a very brave performance which gives a lot of insight into Romeo’s impulses, and it is backed up by others which are equally strong – Rachel Lumberg’s nurse is comic but nakedly with acute observation and Andrew Leung’s Paris is a wimpy little geek, in the wrong place at the wrong time. A production to be treasured.

• To October 17.