Gymnasts and pointe dancers: Claire Forey, Ruyuan Yang, Mostin Hu and Megan RigabarPhoto/ Daniel Fry

This production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale conjures up the sense of wonder and magic promised by its exciting premise. We are in the wild world of the circus – a land of clowns and ballerinas, witches and jealous circus masters. It’s a dazzling vision, and one that has been brought to vibrant life by a wonderfully inventive cast and creative team. 

"Each character has an entirely unique look"

The production owes much of its distinctive look to the sets and costumes. The scenery, designed with creative flare and an eye for aesthetics by Cody Knight, gives the production its eccentric, otherworldly flavour. Hermione’s prison is a hauntingly effective human-sized cage. The trees in the forest of Bohemia are represented with multi-coloured hanging scarves. Costume designer Ramisa Hasan and hair and make-up stylists Kirsty Turnbull and Cat Strong have been equally imaginative. They made full use of the circus-themed production's creative potential: characters in carnival costumes, with drawn-on eyebrows and heart-shaped mouths, address us from beneath pancake white make-up. What’s more impressive is that each character has an entirely unique look. Paulina, played by India Lewis, is stately and imposing in a Queen of Hearts-style dress. Leontes (Liam MacMillian) appears effectively immature in his too-big striped jacket and breeches. 

Director Ilona Sell and Assistant Directors Lucia Bowers and Alex Kiy have crafted a striking, cohesive vision. The production has a fairy-tale feel that proves to be very much in line with the mad twists and turns of Shakespeare’s text. The ballet and gymnastic choreographies between scenes, performed to unsettling carnival music designed by Alex Wrathall, add to the production’s sense of unreality and showmanship. The effect is something like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – slightly uncanny, escapist and captivating. All the sets and costumes deserve to be appreciated in person, so I’ll only add that some scenes utilise a climbing frame, and encourage you to find out more. 

The cast rise to the challenges presented by the production’s gorgeous design. King Leontes is the circus’ tantrum-prone ring-master, pouting and insecure under his face paint. MacMillian’s tightly-wound physicality and short, sharp vocal delivery makes the character appropriately insufferable. Jack Ward as Hermione is his dignified other half – her grounded performance at the trial scene was especially touching. Set against the production’s lighter, more fanciful moments, the monologue in which Hermione pleads for her life has a poignant gravity. Assertive direction meant that longer monologues from the main cast were always well-paced and engaging. 

"Slightly uncanny, escapist and captivating"

Impressive comedic performances were delivered by the whole cast. Amongst the many inventive, zany characterisations, Maria Telnikoff was one stand-out as a trembling, wide-eyed jester. Special credit should also go to Lucia Bowers for her precise comedic timing as the old shepherd, and to Coco Wheeler for her charming, dancing delivery of Time’s tricky monologues. 


Mountain View

Out of Water review

The cumulative effect of the impressive direction and skilful tech is a production that feels grounded in a colourful alternate universe, one as dangerous as it is fabulously fun. This show breathes fresh life into a complicated and beloved classic. Go and see the sparkling spectacle for yourself. 

The Winters Tale is playing at the ADC at 7:45pm from Tuesday 22nd February - Saturday 26th February.