By William Shakespeare
Directed by Aileen Gonsalves
Company: RSC Youth Ensemble
Venue: Courtyard Theatre
Date: Friday 14th August 2009
This was our first experience of the RSC Youth Ensemble, and while I enjoyed some of the performance, and felt they came up with some good ideas for staging, it’s not something I would normally include in our schedule. Some of the youngsters showed promise, all had worked very hard, and the editing done by Aileen Gonsalves worked very well. There were minimal costumes and no set (the performance took place on the regular Winter’s Tale set) and one musician at the back adding sound effects and music.
The play started with the Mamillius character investigating a hamper which turned out to have some clothes in it. The other actors rushed onto the stage as he approached the hamper and soon they were flinging the contents all over the place, occasionally trying some piece of clothing out. A few actors were helped into their ‘costumes’ and then we were into Act 2 Scene 2, with Hermione telling the waiting women to take her son for a bit. Even less explanation of Leontes’ jealousy, and no bad thing either. There’s enough explanation of the story after Hermione has been arrested and Leontes is telling his lords why he’s done it.
But first there’s a nice bit of staging, as Mamillius shows his ability to freeze time and slips out of his waistcoat so he can watch the rest of the action unfold. This emphasised the story-telling angle, and it was good to see so much of Mamillius, often the forgotten character of this play. He’s also able to stop time during the trial scene so that Hermione can get up and walk off, saving the other cast members the trouble of carrying her.
Polixenes and Camillo were played by two of the actresses within the group and a good job they made of it. The shepherds’ arrival during a storm was demonstrated by the older one flapping the ends of her cagoule, while the younger one lost his hat and had to chase it. Autolycus was singing snatches of modern songs, while Mopsa and Dorcas duetted with Abba’s Take A Chance On Me. The Bohemia scenes ended with a boat chase across the diagonal of the stage, with Camillo and Polixenes in hot pursuit of Florizel and Perdita and the shepherds following on behind. The young shepherd was nearly lost overboard but was rescued by his father.
Back in Sicilia we get the reports of the reunions from the servants and then Hermione’s statue, which was revealed in an interesting way. From our angle, we could see her walking on from the far side, but the rest of the ensemble was rushing around the stage a lot so it may not have been obvious from the front. The ‘spare’ actors then formed up in a ring around her, and as Paulina displays the statue, these actors squat down, then rise up and peel away like a curtain, running off stage. Nicely done.
The play ends with all the actors except Mamillius moving to the back, facing away from the audience. He moves towards them, and Hermione is the only one who sees him. She goes to hold his hand, before letting it go and joining the rest of the group. There’s some trigger which I don’t quite remember, and a final game of energetic tag, and then they formed up in the middle and the lights went down to end it.
There was a short post-show discussion where the youngsters were able to ask questions of Michael Boyd, and the audience got to join in too. The actors were certainly articulate and enthusiastic – our pick of the crop were Nina Kastner as Polixenes, Jodi Bree as Hermione, and Andrew Hodgson as Autolycus.
© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me