Review The Winter’s Tale, Suitcase Theatre Theatr Clwyd by Donna Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Suitcase Theatre, a local community theatre company, started out in 2008 with a production of We’ll Keep a Welcome- a play about evacuees from Liverpool and Merseyside who came to live in North Wales in 1939. The use of local stories and topics has been a long-running focus for Suitcase Theatre as well as revivals of classics such as The Birthday Party and Waiting for Godot. The company pride themselves on bringing together a wide range of performers- young and old, experienced, and less so, amateur, and professional and have participants from North Wales, Cheshire, and the Wirral.

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays and was one of his last, written around 1609-11. The first recorded performance of the play was at The Globe on May 15th, 1611, and later that year it was presented at Whitehall before King James I. It provides us with one of the more challenging stage directions- ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ (in this instance a member of the company dressed in a questionable costume- if Shakespeare were alive today, perhaps he could have written ‘Exit, SFX of bear in pursuit’!)

It’s difficult to give a brief summary of any of Shakespeare’s plays but more so with his last, lesser-known creations. The Winter’s Tale offers countless themes throughout its tragi-comedic plot – love, jealousy, rage, mistaken identity, reunions, and it really is a play of two halves. The first, clearly tragic- disastrous if you will; one full of bitterness, sadness, and death and if we are going to label this play, we would certainly conjure the word ‘tragedy’ as Act 1 unfolds. It is reminiscent of Othello- the insanely jealous husband, wrongly accusing his wife of an affair, and so catastrophe ensues. However, as Act 2 begins, the audience wouldn’t be judged for believing they had sat down in the wrong auditorium- the piece is uplifted by the appearance of Autolycus, of the Old Shepherd and his son, Clown. We’ve gone from Winter and 16 years have elapsed in minutes as we give way to Spring- with the passing of time as well as with lighter themes of family, forgiveness, and rebirth.

As the play opens, the cast have their backs to the audience, and it is clear we are at a celebration- the guests are dressed to impress and on the screen are fireworks. The use of the screen is effective throughout, particularly to convey the passing of time with the moon in its different phases. The scene transitions are consistent with blackouts in the right places, slick movement of small set pieces and atmospheric music or sound effects to signify the mood or time of day. The performance is mostly done in black box with a few simple additions such as chairs, tables, or dividers and none of this distracts from the action. This is my main take-away from Suitcase Theatre’s production- that due to the simple set and timely costumes it is much easier to concentrate on the language; to really listen to and understand what’s being said. There are a few missed lines, mainly down to projection issues (as well as very heavy rain on the night in question!) or characters aiming their speech at each other rather than out to the audience on occasion, but overall, the speech is clear, and it is wonderful to truly focus in on the wonderful words that Shakespeare provided to actors and audiences alike.

The casting is excellent and there are moments I forget that I’m watching an amateur production. The word ‘amateur’ unfortunately carries such negative connotations but that is exactly what this production is. None of these performers or members of the production team are being paid for their hard work- they’re doing it because they love what they do. And there are some superb performances- most notably from Si Kneale as Leontes who not only has an awful lot of dialogue to learn but portrays the character with just the right amount of madness and regret- as an audience we trust this actor in this role, and he is unwavering throughout the piece. Ruth Huish as Hermione is beautiful and we truly empathise with her plight, no more so than during her speech to illustrate her innocence to Leontes- Huish delivers this with verve and poignancy. Connor Jones as Autolycus lifts the piece in Act 2 and is clearly a natural performer with a talent for accents. His likability factor brings a real charm to the production after a hard-hitting first half.

You’d be hard met to find a local community theatre group willing to give Shakespeare a go, but Suitcase Theatre did it with enthusiasm (lots of it brilliantly displayed via rehearsal photographs etc. on their Facebook page!), professionalism and lots of hard work- having only rehearsed for this piece for around 6 weeks! It was wonderful to see such a variety of performers on stage too- including some very talented youngsters! Huge congratulations to all involved- if you have chance to see this production, I’d highly recommend it!

The Winter’s Tale is playing at Theatr Clwyd until Saturday October 21st. To book your tickets, please head to the website…

The Winter’s Tale | Theatr Clwyd


Leontes- Si Kneale
Hermione- Ruth Huish
Mamillius- Isaac Huish
Perdita- Zoey Owen
Polixenes- Andy Jordan
Florizel- Ioan Eldridge
Antigonus- John Wylde
Paulina- Rowena Owen
Cleomenes- Kevin Taws
Dion- Peter Thorne
Emilia- Lin Blessing
Julia- Pauline Marsden
Rogero- Stewart Venables
Demetrius- John Owen
Camillo- Niall Heaton
Officer- Richard Thornton
Gaoler- Will Wood, Dylan Roberts
Benvenuto- James Bennett
Mariner- Will Wood
Archidamus- Deborah Thomas
Autolycus- Connor Jones
Old Shepherd- Gwyn Brick
Clown- Tom Cutler
Cassio- James Bennett
Mopsa- Lin Blessing
Dorcas- Pauline Marsden
Quinto- Dylan Roberts
Guiseppe- James Peacock
Eufrasio- Peter Thorne
Time- Connor Jones
Slaves of Time- Dylan Roberts, James Bennett
Bear- a member of the company

Production Team

Director- Mike Stevens
Production Manager- John Owen
Stage Manager- Gordon Peterson
ASM (Props)- Richard Thornton
ASM- Deborah Thomas
Deputy Stage Manager- Graham Sherwood
Lighting and Special Effects- John Owen
Sound Design- Ellie Wylde
Composer/ Music Director- James Peacock
Stage Designer- Paul Jones
Choreographer- Karen Campbell
Wardrobe, Wigs, Hair & Makeup- Rowena Owen
Publicity Design- Peter Taylor
Chaperone- Nerys Bennett

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