In Shakespeare’s time, women weren’t allowed onstage. His troupe used boy apprentices to play young girls, adult actors as the older women. Presumably, they were meant to be convincing, within what must have been a highly stylized stage convention. Regrettably and foolishly, Edward Hall’s troupe Propeller, in presenting an all-male Winter’s Tale, made no attempt to recapture the Elizabethan convention or to create a new one, instead settling, in the female roles, for what mostly looked like bad camp, flecked with pretentious pseudo-Brechtian touches to underline the already obvious gender-switching.
This was one of the many lousy ideas Hall employed. Although the stark simplicity of his production kept the text moving with a nice Shakespearean swiftness, the evening was rife with unhelpful staging, ploddingly unpoetic performances, and an almost lugubrious lack of comedy. The often shoddy acting, combined with the new “democratizing” British trend of making all Shakespearean characters sound like cockney shopkeepers, sometimes suggested Peter Quince’s troupe was at work. Bill Buckhurst, cannily ignoring the injunction to speak badly, was an affecting Florizel, and Simon Scardifield made Queen Hermione a touchingly manly little fellow. Still, why import English mediocrity? Surely we have enough of our own.