Bard on the Beach shines in opening of beautiful The Winter’s Tale

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Bard on the Beach premiered their second show of the season, The Winter’s Tale, last week on the BMO Mainstage. Set in Sicilia and Bohemia with a large cast of strong characters, a wonderful minimalist set, beautiful costumery, and fantastic puppetry, Bard is showcasing their best.

Set in Sicily and Bohemia, the tale begins with a husband’s irrational jealousy. King Leontes believes that his wife, Hermione, has been unfaithful to him with his best friend, Polixenes. Hermione, who is pregnant, is arrested and taken to prison. She gives birth there, and Leontes orders Lord Antigonus to take the baby away from her and leave it in the wilderness to die. Some 16 years later, across the sea, two young people – Prince Florizel and a shepherdess, Perdita – fall in love. Their union becomes the catalyst for reunion, redemption and a family’s healing.

All of the actors put on a great show, but Hermione (Sereana Malani) and Autolycus (Ben Elliott) stood out. Hermione is placed on a pedestal of perpetual honour in this story and Sereana Malani excels. Despite the immense difficulty of capturing such a character while still bringing nuance and personality to the role, Malani makes Hermione feel human. Ben Elliott as Autolycus steals every scene he steps into with his extravagant performance, bringing a needed brightness and hilarity to the uneven second half.

The Winter’s Tale isn’t one of Shakespeare’s best – lacking in the well-developed motivations that many of his better works master. However, Bard on the Beach balanced the tragedy and comedy quite well, managing to captivate audiences through well-thought out costumes, sets, and some exquisite puppetry.

Pam Johnson’s stage handles many reconfigurations in Sicilia with five large columns and natural imagery in the more rugged world of Bohemia. That minimalism allowed for Carmen Alatorre’s costumes to shine – effortlessly transitioning from Sicilia to Bohemia and back. Alatorre managed to capture the character’s inner struggles through their outfits – giving Leontes royal purple only after he becomes repentant.

We also got hints of childlike wonder with puppetry from Heidi Wilkinson. Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear” brings a wonderful moment with a geometric bear and some shaggy sheep. It provided unexpected charm and brevity to a heavy first half and eased the transition after intermission.

Bard on the Beach hosts this wonderful rendition of The Winter’s Tale until September 22 on the BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park. Visit http://bardonthebeach.org for tickets.

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