In review: The (reimagined) Winter's Tale Sadie Parsons (Hermione) and Héloïse Werner (Perdita) in The Hermes Experiment's The Winter's Tale. Photo by Cathy Pyle.

In review: The (reimagined) Winter's Tale

Jenna Simeonov

Before a packed crowd in the Cockpit Theatre, The Hermes Experiment presented The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare musically reimagined. Directed by Nina Brazier, Shakespeare’s play is abridged to roughly one hour in length, and it’s set to original music by Kim Ashton.

The Hermes Experiment is a quartet made of up Anne Denholm (harp), Marianne Schofield (double bass), Héloïse Werner (soprano) and Oliver Pashley (clarinet); for this performance, clarinetist Stephen Williams stepped in for Pashley. The group of chamber improvisers champions new music and new ways to experience it, and for this adaptation of The Winter’s Tale, they were joined by actors William McGeough (Leontes), Sadie Parsons (Hermione), Robert Willoughby (Polixenes/Gentleman), Louisa Hollway (Paulina), and Christopher Adams (Mamillius/Camillo/Gentleman).

Sadie Parsons as Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, presented by The Hermes Experiment, 2016. Photo by Cathy Pyle.

The simple thrust stage was sparsely decorated with party-like streamers from the ceiling, and flowers strewn upon the floor. In neutral black, the actors and instrumentalists occupied the same space; while she wasn’t singing, Héloïse Werner took on the role of Perdita, and other members of The Hermes Experiment had brief interactions - lines, even - with the actors of the play. Collectively, the performers seemed to drift between playing a singular character, and being a part of a Greek chorus-type ensemble.

The Winter’s Tale, presented by The Hermes Experiment, 2016. Photo by Cathy Pyle.

Hovering somewhere between medieval inspiration and abstract improvisation, Kim Ashton’s music served as evocative incidental music, offering subtext and commentary in what felt like a live version of a film score. With admirable listening skills, the quartet played from memory, removing one more barrier that can separate the audience from the creative process. Brazier’s staging served Shakespeare, certainly, but she responded organically to the opinions offered in Ashton’s score.

It took our ears a while to adjust to the mixing of music and dialogue, and a few spoken lines were obscured by the music. Yet we were soon drawn in by the fine performances by the actors, and succumbed to the humour of the “gentlemen’s scene”, hilariously done by Robert Willoughby and Christopher Adams.

Robert Willoughby and Christopher Adams in The Winter’s Tale, presented by The Hermes Experiment, 2016. Photo by Cathy Pyle.

Hopefully, this viewing of The Winter’s Tale won’t be the last. The Hermes Experiment is an ensemble that seems to tirelessly look forward, and reimagining Shakespeare in this way is an exciting trend to start. Stay in the loop with further developments from The Hermes Experiment by following them on Twitter, or visiting their website.

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