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Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale full of comic warmth

PUBLISHED: 16:53 02 April 2008 | UPDATED: 17:18 16 August 2010

WINTER WONDERLAND: Richard Nield as Florizel embraces Abi Sharma who plays Perditia.

WINTER WONDERLAND: Richard Nield as Florizel embraces Abi Sharma who plays Perditia.

CONTAINING one of the most famous stage directions in history – Exit, pursued by a bear – Shakespeare s The Winter s Tale is a rich, allegorical comedy with a charmingly mystical feel to it, writes Mark Campbell.

CONTAINING one of the most famous stage directions in history - "Exit, pursued by a bear" - Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is a rich, allegorical comedy with a charmingly mystical feel to it, writes Mark Campbell.

Performed recently by the South London Theatre in their Prompt Corner studio, this ambitious (and therefore seldomly performed) play with its widely differing locales and relatively large cast was cleverly brought to life by director Michael Wilson.

A Mediterranean storm was dramatised very effectively by eerie billowing sheets, accompanied by staccato lightning flashes and the sound of fierce winds.

The aforementioned bear was actor Anton Krause encased in a large, bamboo-like animal-shaped frame, in the style of the horses in Equus.

Glimpsed only briefly in the flashes of lightning, it was a near-success, although he did look rather like a dragon and inevitably prompted laughter rather than fear (which is arguably the author's intention anyway).

Nick Mansley played the seemingly cuckolded King Leontes with appropriate gravitas, fearing that his childhood friend Polixenes (a full-blooded performance by Dave Chaisty) is having an affair with his wife Hermione (Louisa-Jane Evans).

Christopher Poke was the king's amusingly unctuous servant Camillo, who rebelliously flees with Polixenes to Bohemia, instead of poisoning him.

Hearing this, Hermione apparently dies in shock.

Diminutive Abi Sharma played both the king's young son and - 16 years later - his grown-up daughter Perditia on the island of Bohemia.

Perditia, who has been reared by shepherds, falls in love with Polixenes' son, Prince Florizel (Richard Nield), but after the inevitable comical misunderstandings and confusions, all ends happily.

Even Leontes is reunited with his 'dead' wife, when a statue of her is brought back to life by her guardian Paulina (Maria Bates).

Broad comedy was provided by John Lyne and Ward Trowman, both excellent as the father and son shepherds, dressed as clichéd country bumpkins and behaving like a pair of village idiots at a barn dance.

And as the roguish pickpocket Autolycus, Stuart Draper once again demonstrated his unique, audience-pleasing talents as musician and comedian combined in a hilariously outrageous star turn.

* The next production at the South London Theatre is The Fire Raisers by Max Frisch, from 15-19 April. Tickets: 0208 670 3474.

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