The Winter's Tale

Mon 5th – Sat 10th August 2013


Eliza Plowden

at 09:39 on 7th Aug 2013



Initially, I was rather underwhelmed by The Furness Influence’s production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’. It was the first time I had seen the play and I was hoping for something a bit more traditional; I was somewhat disconcerted by the garish costumes, creepy black and white face paint and inappropriate music.

Nevertheless, once the actors had warmed up a little, it became easier to ignore the staging and focus on the story. The conflict between Leontes and his queen was especially powerful, as the actors clearly conveyed the misunderstanding over the matter of Hermione’s fidelity. Similarly, in spite of the generally clumsy transitions between scenes, I was impressed by the students’ imaginative use of props throughout, particularly their construction of a thirteen-hour clock in the middle of the stage.

On leaving the theatre, we were approached by the founder of the arts company who was eager to explain its background and purpose. The Furness Influence was set up last year with the aim of bringing drama and the arts to students with very limited opportunities, giving them a chance to try something new and to grow in confidence. Considering that the company has doubled in size since they came to the Fringe last summer, this project is evidently on the way to achieving its goals.

After hearing this, I realised how wrongly I had judged the performance. Yes, the speech was often unclear, the costumes were confusing and there was a serious range in the students’ acting ability. However, I am now able to appreciate the successes of ‘The Winter’s Tale’, rather than merely pointing out its shortcomings. Although some of the students tended to overact while others appeared entirely disengaged from their roles, this may merely reflect their varying levels of confidence. Even so, there were moments when the acting was undeniably charismatic; both the shepherd and Autolycus were energetically portrayed and provided a few laughs in the more comedic scenes, whilst the ending was genuinely touching.

As a whole, the performance was far from perfect. However, taking all things into consideration, the cast of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ should be proud of their achievement. I would like to see them come back next year, perhaps performing their own work, as it would be interesting to see what they could achieve with a little more confidence.


Matthew Davies

at 11:07 on 7th Aug 2013



‘A sad tale's best for winter,’ says Mamillius in ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ although in a summertime Fringe filled with comedy, ‘sad tales’ are notoriously difficult to pull off. This is the second year at the Fringe for the Furness Influence, following a debut outing which saw them stage an original play based on works by Philip Larkin. Staging one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays may seem like a tall order for a relatively new student group, and ‘The Winter’s Tale’ occasionally falls flat, but on the whole the Furness Influence put on an enjoyable performance.

The set design of the play is simple but effective. A large signpost helps to establish the play’s two locations of Sicilia and Bohemia; helpfully, the cast is dressed according to which kingdom they belong to. King Leontes of Sicily, for instance, wears drab monochrome colours; Autolycus, a vagabond of Bohemia, is bedecked in much more colourful hues. This sort of visual signposting is helpful, somewhat alleviating the whiplash experience as the play veers from melodrama to comedy in the second half. Unfortunately, the limited size of the Space @ Surgeon’s Hall is rather prohibitive, and the stage often seems overcrowded. This is a shame, as the cast obviously have potential, and a larger stage would have made it easier for the production to breathe.

The acting on offer is spirited and energetic, with King Leontes particularly a highlight. The cast tackle their lines with relish, although the delivery occasionally seems rushed, and the characters are not always particularly well-defined. Audience interaction is experimented with - by Autolycus in particular - but it is limited and largely seems to lack a point. Similarly, the use of music is rather clumsy, and more often serves to obscure the action than to enhance it.

In fact, obscurity and confusion are words which came to mind all-too-often whilst watching ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ This is in large part due to the manner in which the play has been compressed; forty minutes is a very short time for a Shakespeare play, particularly one which exhibits such a variety of moods as ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ Certain aspects of the production try and make this problem less acute; as I mentioned earlier, the set design is very effective, and one sequence which illustrates a time lapse of sixteen years is very visually appealing. In the end, though, while enjoyable, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is an example of an obviously-talented amateur company over-stretching themselves.


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