The Winter's Tale (2005)

Perhaps it was because they named a teddy-bear prop ‘Macbeth’. Perhaps it was because The Winter’s Tale is the most spectacularly unseasonal title for an open-air summer production. Perhaps it was plain old-fashioned bad luck. Whatever the reason, the early stages of the Pantaloons’ second production (and first summer tour) were beset with problems.

The rain poured down on their first run of performances. A missing passport stranded a cast member in Canada only days before their Edinburgh Fringe debut. As a final sting in the tail, the company lost over GBP600 of their meagre resources when Kent-based airline EUjet, with whom they had booked their Edinburgh flights, folded like a decrepit Kentish deckchair.

But if Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is about anything, it’s about sudden reversals in the face of seemingly-inevitable doom. Jealous tyrants see the error of their ways, and repent. Wronged wives come back from the dead. Abandoned babies escape shipwrecks and hungry bears to be discovered by kindly shepherds. And struggling theatre companies snatch success from the jaws of disaster. (All, right, that last one isn’t actually in Shakespeare’s play…)

The Pantaloons’ pay-what-you-like performances at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden attracted enormous crowds, beautiful sunshine and glowing reviews. Clowns interacted with the audience. Loveable rogue Autolycus improvised snatches of stand-up, making Murder She Wrote references and referring to a battered copy of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare. At each performance, the infamous stage direction ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ was enacted by a member of the audience.

At the end of the show, a statue of the dead Hermione comes miraculously to life. The wise Paulina tells us that in order to believe this magical story of hope and redemption, the audience must join the actors in their make-believe: “It is required you do awake your faith”. With The Winter’s Tale, the Pantaloons learned that their clownish ways could be put to the most profoundly moving dramatic effect.

It was only a matter of time before they tackled Tragedy with a capital T…

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Liz Mattey, Pick of the Fringe

Vibrant and versatile... accessible yet intelligent... a great show for all ages.