Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

The Winter’s Tale – Shropshire Youth Theatre

Chris Eldon Lee reviews the Shropshire Youth Theatre’s production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ which continues at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn tonight (14th March  2024)

With the possible exception of the RSC, not many adult theatre companies would have the confidence to tackle Shakespeare’s infamous ‘problem play’.

Written late in his life, its unusual in that the first half is deeply philosophical and the second is a happy-ever-after comedy.

But its appeal to a youth group is that, rather than put the weight of the play on one pair of young shoulders (e.g. Hamlet or Lear), it offers juicy parts for all the members of a large cast. So, everyone gets the chance to shine – which also keeps the parents happy.

And shine, they do.

It is remarkable how, year after year and generation after generation, Shropshire Youth Theatre brings the absolute best out of their members to stage a show to be so proud of. The young actors completely ‘get’ Shakespeare. They understand his language. They follow his meaning. They speak his words as if they are their own. And they make it all seem professionally effortless.

It’s a simple, stylish setting onto which is painted a rich pageant of colour and costume. Lisa Morris’s production is set in medieval times and her wardrobe team have produced a beautiful array of authentic courtly wear … as well as some scary death-head wear for the unholy triumvirate of ‘Time’ . If an actor is to feel confident on stage, first they have to look good.

Sure-footed confidence abounds. The magic moments keep on coming.

Morris has cast her play well. For example, Oliver-Flynn Hall as the jealous King Leontes is perfectly paired with Tommy Monether, playing the moral messenger commanded to commit murder. As Leontes angrily barks out his ugly orders, he is back lit by a wall of red light; his ‘red mist rising’. By sharp contrast, Tommy’s expressive face, worried gestures and ultra-natural verse speaking let you know instantly that he’s not going to do it. He is so natural and comical on stage and he is one of many, last night, who may go on to make the theatre their home.

You will have to excuse me if I don’t mention every excellent actor. There are so many. And the group spirit is such that I am assured no one will be upset. So, here are a few:

Harry Heyes as Mamillius does a fine job of doing the almost impossible … a young actor playing an even younger child on stage, with complete conviction. He is light and airy and playful.

Teddy Shoosmith makes an excellent job of Antigonus to whom the cradled, exiled baby Perdita is entrusted. You really get a sense of his character’s care and compassion … for which he pays the ultimate price in the jaws of a surprisingly horrible bear.

Max Rowe is commanding as Polixenes. Carys MacMillan portrays the dignified calm of Hermione extremely well. She is beautifully spoken and really does portray her character as “spotless”, as Shakespeare intended. At the end of the play, with little to do except stand statuesquely, she somehow brings a silent tear to a reviewer’s eye.  I must say I was also moved by the simple drama of Apollo’s judgement.

Clay Allen does a grand job as the lute-strumming clown Autolycus, who digs the play out of its depth in the second half with pocket-picking humour and a cheeky, clownish demeaner. Heidi MacKechnie is lovely, alive and bright-eyed as the goodie-goodie teenage Perdita … innocently clasping her hands as she falls in love.

However, the “Unexpected Star of the Show” for me is Tess Mead.

This young actress bowled me over with her complete comprehension of the complex character of Paulina. It’s a tough part. She drives the plot. She and is the voice of reason and justice… but also condemnation. It is so easy to disappear down just one aspect of this character, but Tess expertly keeps an even balance … so we see the whole rounded character; somewhere between Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa.  Again, she speaks Shakespeare as he should be spoken and the whole company play him as he should be played.

I just wish someone from the RSC was there to see it.