Cult composer and lyricist Howard Goodall's new musical based on Shakespeare's great 'problem' play 'The Winter's Tale' comes up against the same difficulty facing a straightforward staging. How do you reconcile the pitch darkness and bucolic light of two acts set 16 years apart, in two different countries?
Thematic threads are woven through the story, tying the paranoiac tyranny of Sicilian king Leontes to the Bohemian countryside in which the daughter he believes to be the product of an affair between his wife and his best friend grows up in exile, unaware of her true parentage.
The scenes in Sicily – in which an irrationally jealous Leontes condemns his wife to death for adultery – are atmospherically lit and choreographed, but suffer from some overwrought performances.
Both Goodall's music and Andrew Keates's production are on surer footing in the second half. It blooms into life when the action shifts to Bohemia – and not just because shepherds with comedy Welsh accents are always fun. Goodall's songs capture the passage of youth with unforced poignancy and the cast's gentle joie de vivre stays on the right side of pastoral idyll.
Setting the play to music doesn't add a lot to the story, but when it hits the right notes this production resonates powerfully. And it boasts a superb performance from Helena Blackman as Paulina, whose steadfastness brings events to their redemptive conclusion.