Review: The Winter’s Tale (Groundling Theatre Company)

233 - Tom McCamus and Lucy Peacock in the Groundling Theatre Production of The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare, at the Coal Mine Theatre. Director Graham Abbey, Set and Lighting Designer Steve Lucas, Costume Co-designers Michael Gianfrancesco and Jenna McCutchen, Photo: Michael CooperToronto’s Groundling Theatre Company presents Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale

For many people, the famous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” is the only thing they know about Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. This is understandable as the tonal dissonance between the play’s first three acts and the last two makes it a difficult play to explore when we’re first learning about Shakespeare in school, but it’s unfortunate because it’s also one of the more interesting of Shakespeare’s plays for that exact same reason.

It’s also a fantastic choice for Groundling Theatre‘s debut piece in their new home at the Coal Mine Theatre.

I’m tempted to get into a whole examination of the plot of The Winter’s Tale, but I have a habit of getting mired in that and losing track of actually reviewing productions, so I’ll instead just link to the wikipedia article on the play. Give it a read, it’s actually quite interesting. Got the gist? Great, let’s get to the actual review.

To start with, director Graham Abbey has made a bold choice in this staging by putting it in the round; an always daunting choice as it gives the actors no place to hide from the audience and also places a huge emphasis on blocking to make sure no section of the audience gets left out of the action. Despite the challenges the production works it well and there wasn’t a moment I felt like I was staring at anyone’s back for too long (and if I was there was someone else facing me so I never felt left out of the action).

The set is barebones, basically just a stage, a chair and a couple stools, which for me personally is exactly how I like my theatre, putting the emphasis on the actors and their performances. One neat touch that I wish was used more often was the inclusion of a projector that showed a couple films at the beginning of the play; I understand why they didn’t use it too much (it was projected on a wall which meant that the audience sitting in that section couldn’t see it) but I do wish they could have used it at the start of Act 4 after the intermission, bookending how they’d started the play.

With a cast including actors like Tom McCamus, Lucy Peacock and Brent Carver it’s hardly surprising the performances are fantastic. Nevertheless it’s impressive how well the characters are portrayed; to give an example, McCamus’ Leontes could very easily have been turned into a caricature of jealousy and paranoia, but every extreme moment of his madness feels like a decided choice and not just someone acting. Even through the sometimes difficult Shakespearean text I genuinely believed that Leontes was trying to find some semblance of control over the betrayal and lies he perceived.

Michelle Giroux deserves a special mention in her role as Hermione, a central role to the plot yet absent for a great deal of it. Her monologue during her trial is equally powerful and vulnerable and truly drives home the tragedy that befalls those she loves as a result of her fate.

The Winter’s Tale is definitely worth seeing, especially if you’re a fan of The Bard and if the $35 price tag is a little steep try going on Sundays when it’s Pay What You Can. I’m definitely excited to see what Groundling Theatre comes up with to follow this excellent production.

Details:

  • The Winter’s Tale is playing at the Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue)
  • Performances run until February 20, 2016
  • Showtimes are 7:30 PM, Tuesday through Sunday
  • Tickets are $35, Rush at the door 30 minutes prior to performance $30. Sundays are PWYC and Groups 15+ are $20.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or in person

Photo of Tom McCamus and Lucy Peacock courtesy of Michael Cooper

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