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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The Winter's Tale in the Spiegeltent
by Charlotte Loveridge

Your chang'd complexions are to me a mirror, Which shewes me mine chang'd too.
--- Polixenes
The Winter's Tale in the Spiegeltent
Sasha Waddell as Hermione
(Photo: Creation Theatre)
The setting is the real star of this show. Built in Belgium almost a century ago, the Spiegeltent (or Mirror tent) is ornately decorated and Victorian-looking with velvet drapes and panels of coloured glass separating the domed top. This is the tent that Marlene Dietrich sang "Falling in Love Again" in, in the 1930s and shipped over from Holland especially for Creation Theatre's characteristically lively and dynamic production in this unique space in Oxford.

A circular, raised stage is surrounded by cabaret style seating, velvet chairs, tables and booths, where the audience enjoy crepes and drinks from the bar during the performance. Mirrors around the walls are on the same level as the stage, so the audience is concealed, and shards of reflected figures form a moving backdrop to the acting.

Hermione (Sasha Waddell) is a spirited and charming queen, and Leontes (Andrew Harrison) manages the king's inexplicably swift onset of jealous rage competently. Both these actors have a chance to demonstrate their comic range, doubling as the Old Shepherd and his son in an Eastern European version of pastoral life. Their performances are sufficiently distinctive to avoid confusion when they return as the royal couple in the final scene, with all traces of Russian accents expunged. Polixenes (Darren Ormandy) was especially good, and his anger at his son's clandestine liaison with a shepherdess evoked a parallel with Leontes' fury. The lovers Florizel (Tristan Bayne) and Perdita (Sarah McNeale) rendered assured, convincing performances.

The physical nature of the production was somewhat diminished the night I saw it because of a back injury sustained by Justin Webb (Autolycus/Time). Nevertheless, the company performed a number of dances, including the young couple's satyr dance. Their primitive adornments of Bacchic bull crowns and stripes of red face paint influence their more passionate and sensuous movements. Paulina (Katy Feeney) plays out choreographed resistance against Leontes, stamping her feet and eluding her would-be captors, which is especially powerful in so intimate a theatre.

Above the stage, making use of the round space, are hung twelve numbers, resembling a clock. The number seven was unfortunately in a draught, and tended to move around rather a lot. Dolls, representing the characters, are hung beneath the numbers, so that the stage gradually becomes peopled by a miniature second cast. A circle of painted caryatids, part of the tent, form an extra layer of diminutive spectators just above the dolls. In the first half, the dolls are suspended as Leontes drives away those close to him, making effective trophies of his guilt -- a phantom-like reminder of the people he has alienated or lost. The dolls assume voodoo power in the second half when Autolycus hits the head of the clown's doll and she immediately cries out in pain and rubs his head.

In the court of Sicilia, the women wear dark and sumptuously rich costumes, while the men are fitted out in military regalia, giving a sense of court society. This is followed by fresh whites and creams, with fabric flowers, in bucolic Bohemia.

The production is creative and energetic. Even if it were not, the exceptional venue itself is worth a visit.

The Winter's Tale in the Spiegeltent
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Justin Butcher

With: Tristan Bayne, Katy Feeney, Andy Harrison, Sarah McNeale, Harry Napier, Darren Ormandy, Sasha Waddell, Justin Webb, Elizabeth Park, Gary Rake, Matthew Copson, Thomas Clarke, Alexander Fahey
Designer: Cordelia Chisholm
Lighting Designer: Mike Gunning
Music: Harry Napier
Choreographer: Aidan Treays
Running time: Three and a half hours with one interval
Box Office: 01865 245745
Booking to 3rd April 2004
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 11th February 2004 Performance at the Spiegeltent, BMW Group Plant, Oxford. The public entrance is only via Gate 7 on Horspath Road off the A4142 between Headington and Cowley roundabouts. It is a taxi or bus ride from Oxford Rail station.
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