Theatre related stuff on TV and Radio July 17 - 21
Have I found my perfect production of The Tempest?

Propeller takes on the problematic Winter's Tale channelling Alice Cooper and Beyonce

The-company-of-Propellers-The-Winters-Tale-Credit-ManueIt's definitely one of Shakespeare's problem plays, The Winter's Tale. It feels like the theatrical equivalent of a cut and shut, the first half being a serious car, a family BMW say and the second half a hippies drug-fuelled, loved up VW camper van.

In what is quite a long set up and tonally very different we find Leontes, King of Sicilia (Robert Hands) accuse his pregnant wife Hermione (Richard Dempsey) of infidelity with his brother Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Nicholas Asbury). He doubts he is the father of his son Maximillius (Ben Allen) and the unborn child. So stubbornly fixed is the idea that he has Hermione thrown into prison where she gives birth.

In an attempt to bring Leontes around, Paulina (Vince Leigh) takes him the baby Perdita hoping he'll see the resemblance and relent. In fact it just angers him further and he orders that the baby be taken far away and left to die. 

Hermione is put on trial and so shocked by what is happening the Maximillius dies. On hearing the news Hermione too falls down dead. Leontes is full of remorse and vows to cry on his wife and son's graves every day.

Cheery stuff. And for once the all male Propeller company played it straight, proving that men in dresses can be taken seriously and even shed tears. But you don't pay to see Propeller playing it straight you pay for the irreverence and inventiveness, the (bum) cheek and the fun. The second half didn't disappoint.

It is set in Bohemia where Perdita was abandoned, found and raised by a simple shepherd and his son. Polixenes' son Florizel (Finn Hanlon) has fallen in love with Perdita and vows to marry her despite the difference in social status. His father, seeing his son's change in behaviour, disguises himself (as a Scout leader - this is Propeller) and follows him to a country sheep sheering celebration to see who is the object of his affections.

When he discovers the truth he isn't best pleased and vows to have the shepherd and his family brutally punished. The two lovers flee to Sicilia to throw themselves on the mercy of Leonates. Will Leonates accept Florizel's story that Perdita is a princess? Will Perdita's true identity be revealed before punishments are meted out? Will the two kings be reconciled? Will Hermione not be dead after all? (Yes, A Winter's Tale does have a rather bizarre plot twist.)

Having held themselves back in the first half, the second half explodes like a bunch of five-year olds left alone in a sweet shop. The rogue Autolycus (Tony Bell) is Alice Cooper-esqe in top-hat, leather trousers and fur coat chatting up the ladies (Poly) in the front row. The ensemble at one point are dressed in cream Arran knitwear crawling around the stage as sheep, even having a bit of a poo which worried me for the rest of the play as the actors continually trod through it.

And then there was the bit where the lines were delivered along to the tune of Beyonce hit Single Ladies complete with some of the famous dance moves from the video.

With a bit of exposed buttock thrown in, this was definitely more like the Propeller we know and love. 

The Winter's Tale wasn't as roundly entertaining as other plays I've seen them do but they did their best with a problem play and for that I applaud them. The dark, sombreness of the first half is completely forgotten by the end of the second half which is riotous fun and, as ever, very imaginatively done. I'm going to give it four stars.

Propeller's run at the Hampstead Theatre, where they have The Winter's Tale and Henry V in rep finishes on Saturday so hurry if you want to see them.