Suspected adultery and attempted infanticide – these are tough subjects to make child-friendly, but that’s the task Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has set itself in adapting Shakespeare’s great ‘problem’ play for anyone aged six or over.
The first half, in which green-eyed Sicilian king Leontes unjustly accuses his wife Hermione of having an affair with his best friend Polixenes – the king of Bohemia – before disowning their baby daughter Perdita and ordering her death, is easily the trickier on this front.
But Ria Parry directs the action in Sicilia crisply and clearly, making good use of the open-air amphitheatre, some puppetry and a wailing klaxon to keep us gripped. There are also some helpful modern English plot recaps at various points.
Ironically, it’s the second half – arguably the play’s weaker – where this production really bursts into life. The secret smuggling away of Perdita to be raised in the Bohemian countryside as a shepherd’s daughter, oblivious to her royal status, is classic fairytale material.
The delightful six-strong cast – who double up between Sicilia and Bohemia – throw themselves into these lighter scenes with gusto. A seasonal feast becomes an excuse for some genuinely fun audience interaction involving on-stage dance-offs for the kids and some vigorous flag-waving from the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the pimped up mobility scooters-cum-speedboats into which the characters cram themselves to zip, ‘Wacky Races’-style, between kingdoms are hilarious.
Inevitably, some things get lost in the mix, but the play is edited not filleted. This hugely enjoyable production succeeds in opening up the story to younger audiences without losing sight of Shakespeare.
By Tom Wicker