The best thing going for HalfMad Theatre’s presentation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is the running time. Seriously. This is not meant as a slight, but a genuine compliment. Because brevity is a respectable aesthetic aim, and even Shakespeare could have done with a wee bit more editing—enough of the lamenting already, William!
In shaving down the script to fit a hundred minute running time, HalfMad has aptly shortened the play to the average length of a movie without sacrificing the story. Which one must imagine is good news for a general public whose familiarity with the great playwright is largely in thanks to No Fear Shakespeare.
One of the problem plays, The Winter’s Tale, though a timely choice with the thaw of winter finally melting away, is an ambitious undertaking for such a young troupe of actors. The sharp tonal shifts of the play, which move from a dead-serious drama featuring an attempted filicide (how Greek!), to a second act that’s a comedic romp with thinly disguised identities and spontaneous marriage proposals, lends itself to an uneven performance. At least this holds true for HalfMad’s production. Absolutely nailing Shakespeare’s most memorable stage direction—Exit, pursued by bear—the troupe is in its finest form in the comedic scenes. One of the highlights of the show is a cover of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” that incorporates an impromptu kazoo solo. Kazoos are funny business, and it’s a very nice touch. The addition of contemporary music used throughout the play is an ingenious choice and places it in our time, removing any of the staleness that can accompany a Shakespearean performance. Also, the actors had good voices. I hadn’t expected them to break into song during a Shakespearean play.
The dramatic heft of the first half of the play, however, proves a challenge. By the time the play reaches its apex with the trial of the queen, the audience is well ready for another rousing musical number. But what really bugged me was the puppet boy. Not in the decision to use a puppet to represent the young prince, that’s an obvious and appropriate decision. I just found the way he looked unsettling. Though I like puppets as much as the next guy that grew-up watching Sesame Street, that puppet creeped me out. Perhaps it was his pupil-less eyes or pale, sickly skin. On the other hand, the minimalistic set design, which consisted primarily of a hollowed out tree with an hourglass set inside its truck, was well suited for the plays drastic changes in setting.
Better than any movie released in the month of February, The Winter’s Tale presents a youthful performance from the fresh faces of HalfMad. It’s a play that’s not one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, but is nonetheless unique, and certainly has its share of funny moments. It’s easily more amusing than anything featuring Adam Sandler in the last decade.
The Winter’s Tale runs through March 29 at Capital Fringe Festival’s new Trinidad Theatre.