Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sheffield Crucible

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Over the past few years Sheffield Theatres has launched into its autumn season with a big and bold Shakespeare production.

While the scale has remained impressive, the wattage of the stars brought in to helm the productions has, it’s fair to say, reduced. In 2010 John Simm took on Hamlet, a year later Dominic West was Iago to Clarke Peters’ Othello. That was followed by Geoffrey Streatfeild as Macbeth and now Daniel Lapaine takes the role of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale.

With all due respect to the final two names on that list, they do not pull in audiences in the same way as the previous three did. It is not as though star casting is the reason for a production, but Sheffield has a decade-long tradition of attracting some very big names to take on the Bard, from Branagh in Richard III onwards, and it would be a shame to see that disappear. However, this is Shakespeare and the play’s the thing. Or it should be.

The theatre has been bold in programming one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” to launch the autumn 2013 season. It certainly bucks the trend of going for the more obvious choice, but if you are going to swim against the tide of another Romeo and Juliet or Midsummer Night’s Dream, you need a pretty cast iron reason. It’s difficult to see one here. Paul Miller’s production is entirely efficient – but also really quite dull. A problem play – and there is no escaping that’s what The Winter’s Tale is – needs a spark to solve the problem and there is not enough here for the production to catch light.

The Winter’s Tale is a story of a jealous king whose suspicions drive him to visit tragedy upon himself. It’s also about a group of undermensch and the fun they have. It is, no mistake, a very odd play, yet in recent years Yorkshire has seen tours by Propeller and the RSC, which showed how it can work. The acting here is perfectly good for the most part, and exceptional in the case of Patrick Walshe McBride as the Young Shepherd, but there is a ruthless efficiency in the acting, as there is in most departments here. It needed a greater spark to earn its place in Sheffield’s ongoing tradition.

To Nov 2.