Review: The Winter’s Tale, National Theatre

At the National Theatre in London, a moving rendition of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for kids, of all ages.

“There’s going to be a whole load of emotional reunions here”

The invitation to this adaptation of The Winter’s Tale came hand in hand with the warning that it is for younger audiences but even if it is aimed at 8-12 year olds, there was much to enjoy, lots to appreciate and just enough to make me cry. The excellent promotional image aside, it was the excellent Justin Audibert directing that was the main draw here and his work with his company did not disappoint.

Streamlined down to an hour, the focus really comes down to the relationships between parent and child, enhancing the throughline of the storytelling beautifully. I loved the idea that the root of this Leontes’ jealousy lay in Polixenes being a better dancer but by having Gabby Wong’s Perdita frame the whole thing as her story and giving Mamillius more time in the sun than usual here, there’s no doubting this is a story of fractured families and how, if at all, they can ever heal.  

What I really loved though, was the way in which the production highlighted the beauty and rough magic of live theatre, emphasising how Shakespeare needs to be seen and not just heard for schoolkids to really ‘get’ it. Whether the way songs created atmosphere or propelled narrative, the use of puppetry to break the fourth wall, the sheer gorgeousness achieved with a single piece of flowing fabric or the power of even a simple bit of movement, there’s something deeply emotive about the work here.

And I think it important to commend the diversity of the cast, particularly in assembling non-representational family units, for this is the power of theatre, to open minds, to expand our view of what the world can be. What could merely be dismissed as make-believe gains real significance in what it can achieve for social cohesion, planting seeds in the minds of future theatremakers who will hopefully be able to dislodge (at least some of) the traditional conventions that still dominate the British theatre landscape in all its snow-whiteness. 

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Main photo: Emily Stein; production photos: Ellie Kurtz
The Winter’s Tale is booking at the National Theatre until 28th February

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