A Winter’s Tale on a Summer’s Night

Photo: David Blue
Photo: David Blue

Spectators traveled back in time to 1623 with Dean Paul Gibson’s brilliant rendition of A Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare at the Bard on the Beach Festival during its premiere night on June 22.

Now in its 28th season, the Bard on the Beach Festival is a not-for-profit professional Shakespearean Festival, set against the beautiful backdrop of Vancouver’s Waterfront. The theme for this particular play is the enduring strength women must acquire in the face of inequity.

The combined efforts of scenery designer Pam Johnson, lighting designer Gerald King, costume designer Carmen Alatorre, and puppet designers Heidi Wilkinson and Frances Henry created a realistic and awe-inspiring spectacle that is sure to keep even the most skeptical audience member entertained. The sheep puppets were one of the highlights, with their bodies wobbling about and producing explosions of laughter from the crowd. Malcolm Dow’s eerie, Middle-eastern sounding classical melodies added to the exotic aura of the performance.

Although considered one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, this label has been contested due to the tragic nature of the first half of this play, which outlines the unjust and cruel punishment endured by Hermione (Sereana Malani) at the hands of her jealous husband and King of Sicily, Leontes (Kevin Macdonald). Leontes accuses her of being unfaithful with his best friend and King of Bohemia, Polixenes (Ian Butcher). Although Antigonus (Andrew Wheeler) and Paulina (Lois Anderson) attempt to convince him otherwise, he condemns his wife to death and her new-born baby to exile.

However, the second act is teeming with comic relief due to the introduction of characters such as the Old Shepherd (David M. Adams), the Young Shepherd (Chris Cochrane), and the notable Autolycus (Ben Elliott). Ben Elliott embraced his character’s humorous persona through exaggerated mannerisms, which allowed him to steal the spotlight, with lines such as “she drops booties in my mouth”. In fact, every actor delivered their lines impeccably accurately, allowing the intricate lingo to be easily understood. Shakespeare’s timeless lines were enunciated eloquently, particularly by Serena Malani, her powerful demeanor entrapping the crowd’s gaze during her scenes. Lois Anderson was an influential character as well, her passion for the playwright evident through her poignant delivery. Well-choreographed dances coupled with entertaining songs by Florizel (Austin Eckert), and Perdita (Kaitlin Williams), among others, added a musical theme to the play which entranced the audience.

The final scene was perhaps one of the most touching, infusing a plethora of emotions into the audience, from tears caused by Hermione’s reunion with Leontes, laughter due to Autolycus’s continuous ruses, and appreciation of the realization that in the end, love conquers all.

Not a single detail in this performance was overlooked. From the stage set-up to the excellent direction and production, this winter’s tale is perfectly enjoyed with a cold beer or glass of wine on a sunny summer’s evening.