Story of two halves presents no problem to leading director

A Winter's Tale
A Winter's Tale
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Lucy Bailey is unusual. A women director in a theatre world that remains dominated by men – and Oxbridge graduates specifically – she has carved out a serious and impressive reputation as a director of distinction who has a startling vision that creates powerful images on stage.

She did it at Sheffield Crucible with Don’t Look Now, she did it at West Yorkshire Playhouse with The Postman Always Rings Twice and now she’s done it at the Royal Shakespeare Company with one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” The Winter’s Tale.

The director is at the RSC at the helm of a production which sees screen star Tara Fitzgerald making her debut with the company. Bailey’s impressive vision has created a piece of work that is as epic and impressive as any of the work she created while working on the stages of Yorkshire’s theatres – and Yorkshire audiences will have the chance to see for themselves when the production comes to York Grand Opera House later this month. It’s fortunate, it transpires, that Yorkshire audiences are getting the chance to see Bailey’s The Winter’s Tale at all.

“Initially I didn’t want to do it,” says Bailey. “I was asked by Michael Boyd, the RSC’s artistic director at the time if I was interested in directing it and I said ‘absolutely not’.”

Bailey, a pixie of a woman with a shock of short blonde hair, holds court at the RSC with a roomful of journalists and it is obvious why her much-lauded directing style works for actors so well. While she is singularly minded, it is not to the detriment of all else. She is clear in her ideas, but she is not stubborn. It is why her initial “absolutely not” was transformed once she had read the problem play and fallen in love with it.

“I can see why it’s considered a problem. It starts out perfectly normally and then goes into this strange, wacky other world, that appears to have bear no relation to the first half of the story,” she says. “The old joke is that Shakespeare wrote the first act, went to the pub, then came back and wrote the second act.”

It’s easy to understand the theory behind the joke. The play begins as a classic Shakespeare text, a story of a royal court, of betrayal and death. It is set in Sicilia, where the privileged few live. The second act features an assortment of base characters who travel about and have fun in a place called Bohemia – and have little care for the higher classes. Think the rude mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, made a whole lot more “earthy” in Bailey’s hands.

“At the bottom of the tower where the people of Sicilia live is where the real people have to get on with life,” she says.

Bailey has come in for a little stick for the fact that the less-civilised characters in her production, those who live in Bohemia, have been given Northern accents. Is it a deliberate slight against Northerners?

“Oh god no,” insists Bailey.

“I loved working in the North, I had some of the best times of my professional career working in theatres in Yorkshire. In fact, I am a passionate advocate that the regional theatres are absolutely vital and need to be funded just as well as some of our bigger, national organisations. I’m incredibly excited that we’re bringing this production to Yorkshire.”

York Grand Opera House, March 19 to 23. 0844 847 2322. See tomorrow’s Yorkshire Post Magazine for an exclusive interview with Tara Fitzgerald.