The most recent imagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale takes place at La Mama Theatre, the result of a collaboration between Hong Kong’s Shax Theatre Group and La Trobe Student Theatre.
For those not familiar with the piece, it centres on King Leontes and his relationship with his wife Hermione, and his best friend Polixenes. Early in the story, he accuses them both of adultery. He throws a pregnant Hermione into prison while Polixenes escapes to his own kingdom. Hermione gives birth, and although his aides try to persuade him otherwise, he remains convinced that the daughter is not his. After Leontes exiles the newborn child, he finds himself alone, but the second act offers him a chance at redemption.
By and large, this work stays true to the original work, although directors Bob Pavlich and Rosalind Wong added a few modern interpretations.
According to the program, Leonte’s palace is situated in colonial Hong Kong while Polixenes hails from 1970s Australia. However, with minimal sets and props to distinguish these worlds from each other, this production maintains a strong connection with the original material.
This production is stripped back, with little to no stage effects beyond simple but effective lighting. This allows the actors space to shine, with very little to distract from their craft. This is a young group of actors who have only been working together for a few months and under difficult circumstances. Their initial rehearsals in Hong Kong were cut short due to precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but it’s clear that the group has made the most of the time they had to work together.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a cast as culturally diverse as this one brings a broad skillset to the production. Each cast member brings something unique to the table, injecting Shakespeare’s words with something new and unique.
Laksmi Ganapathy’s clowning experience sparks laughter throughout the second act. She brings strong physicality to her role, which is a delight to watch.
Evangeline Oster shines in the role of Paulina, the play’s conscience. Her fierce rebukes of King Leontes (Kevin Lorenzo Erodias De Guzman) invigorate the performance as the actress casts a powerful figure across the stage. It has to be said that opposite her, De Guzman matches her for intensity and clarity of intention at every beat.
The ensemble demonstrates that a production of this size and scale can make great use of a space like La Mama Courthouse. Not an inch of space is wasted. The cast make use alcoves in the wall, as well as the imagined space off stage to establish the enormity of Leonte’s palace.
This charming production is engaging and at times hilarious. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing a diverse group of actors shine.