Propeller is an all-male Shakespeare company based in England, The performance was staged at His Majesty's Theatre producing a clever interpretation of the text has shadows and frivolity but, above all, director Edward Hall has ensured that there is meaning. The opening highlights an array of statues individually lit, forshadowing what is to come-Hermione’s plight. We are reminded that “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare).
The child, Mamillius, is important. When first we meet him he is brilliantly presented as a fully grown adult, nursing a cute little bear. Then at the moment Hermione is falsely accused by her husband there is a bear skin positioned in the front, at centre stage. And as the play closes, the ghostly Mamillius clutches his teddy bear as he blows out his father’s candle of hope. The symbol of the bear stands for the power of life to transform good to bad, justice to injustice.
Michael Pavelka’s metallic set creates mirror like distortions while giving the play a sense of slipperiness that troubles the audience, even in the light-hearted moments. Like a distorting lens it suggests the world is not always as we see it. It is a dangerous place. It was a principle so well established that I didn’t miss the classic stage direction: “exit pursued by a bear.”
In the Second half, the cast reappeared with the “Bleatles” band, doing its best to deafen us with noise and exhaust us with sheer movement and activity. But did all this loud, raucous, bawdy, enforced celebration work? Not for me. It felt to extreme, too extravagant. The countryside in The Winter’s Tale, as in As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, is Shakespeare’s “green” world—a place of simplicity and peace. Simplicity there was in abundance, but no peace. The rock band, for me, was gimmick, and Autolycus as a gyrating Alice Cooper or Ozzie Osbourne (whichever it was he was supposed to be) succeeded only because of a couple of gimmicks. For me the balance between the wickedness of court and the purity of the rustic was somehow lost in the Propeller version of the second half of the play.
The set and music of the play were mostly brooding, save for the brisk carnivalesque countryside episode after the intermission. Ben Ormerod lighting complemented the set design by Michael Pavelka which was modern and trendy. Placing the action in a contemporary sphere eliminated the necessity of multifarious costumes and assisted in swift set transitions from tableaux to tableaux. Ultimately the performance is how Shakespeare should be done. It is fast, sinuous and startling; it is not a group of boys in drag. The performance is pulsating with muscular life, physically demanding and accessible to a 2012 audience. The production was a glimpse of authenticity and of delight as the actors made what was familiar transform into something new and surprising.