Hong Kong leader Leontes has a falling out with his old friend, the Australian politician Polixenes, over suspicions of his involvement with Leontes’ wife, Hermione. Jealous and unrestrained, Leontes goes on a bridge-burning frenzy – alienating friends, deserting his newborn, and even causing the death of his innocent wife. He ends up falling into a spiral of lasting regret, while his abandoned daughter, now adopted by a shepherd, begins a life of chance and adventures that will eventually lead her back to her roots.
La Trobe Student Theatre and Hong Kong Shax Theatre Group collaborated on a semi-modern production of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, presented at La Mama Courthouse as part of Asia TOPA 2020. This adaptation retained much of the original plot and text, while transposing the story away from Europe and into the context of Hong Kong and Australia from the 1920s to the present day.
It was an ambitious show, put together by a talented and committed cast and crew. There was not a missed line or a missed cue over the show’s long running time of two hours, and every actor delivered a performance that evidenced internal conviction about their part and the play. This internal conviction, however, did not translate into clarity for the audience, unfortunately. Most of the show, especially most of the first act, came across as a relentless stream of dialogue that was delivered without the kind of nuance and periodic respite that is necessary for a text of that style. Shakespeare’s English is delightful when the performance is able to bridge the gap between the age of the text and its meaning, but in this case, it was almost incomprehensible for a significant proportion of the play. This, in conjunction with the understated physical action throughout the play, meant that much of its meaning was lost for me. The persistent awareness of this loss did not help.
That is not to say that this production did not have its moments. There were some lovely elements in the acting performances, such as the interactions between Monica Wat Tsz Yan and Karen Wang, and the comic expressiveness of Kyo Wing See Cheun. There were moments of unexpected absurdity which drew laughs, such as the various disguises donned by some of the supporting characters in the second act. There was also some very pleasant music in the second act, which lent it significant balance, especially in contrast to the first act. But overall, the weight of the text and the inability of the performances to effectively convey meaning over a long duration, made it somewhat difficult to fully appreciate this show.