Sun | Mar 18, 2018

A tale of two productions

Published:Friday | January 15, 2016 | 12:05 AM
The Cow Bird thieves (in left, foreground) have been arrested by the police officer (right) in 'Runeesha and the Birds'.
A distressed Runeesha (left) sits at her gate as her coach, Champ, tries to comfort her.
Runeesha (Antonette Perkins, left) listens to a lecture from her father (Ray Jarrett, centre) and mother (Nicole Taylor).
A moment of merriment in 'Runeesha and the Birds'..
Three taxis waiting for passengers in the village square in the 2015-2016 LTM Pantomime, 'Runeesha and the Birds'.
Academy Award winner Dame Judi Dench (left) stars as Paulina and multiple Academy Award nominee Sir Kenneth Branagh as Leontes in ‘The Winter’s Tale’.

On Sunday, I seized the opportunity to see William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (on screen at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre) and Barbara Gloudon's Runeesha and the Birds (at The Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue).

There were only about 30 people in the 580-seat Little Theatre on Sunday afternoon, a generally popular time for theatre-going. Twice that number had been at Palace Cineplex earlier.

The Winter's Tale is the first production of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, which was established at London's Garrick Theatre in October. The company joins the others whose works are being screened in Jamaica by the Palace Amusement Company - the Bolshoi's ballets from Moscow, the National Theatre Live plays from London and the Metropolitan's operas from New York.

The LTM is a much older company. It has been staging its pantomimes annually since 1941 and long ago became the island's oldest - and probably most influential - theatre company. In recent years, it has stuck to musicals, but it once produced some Shakespeare (though never The Winter's Tale, as far as I know),

The excellent production that the directors, Branagh and Rob Ashford, "re-imagined" - the company's publicist's word - is a tragic-comedy, while Runeesha and the Birds is a musical. So the genres are different, but there are fundamental similarities. Both contain comedy, drama, music, singing and dancing, and end happily.

Runeesha and the Birds has a thread-thin storyline. It concerns the theft of Runeesha's bag containing her running gear and the efforts that she and others in her community take to get it back. We see a lot of tedious walking (uphill) and running (around) until the bag is retrieved.

While chases work well in movies where the camera can follow cars and planes and buses and trains into perilous places, because a stage's space is so limited, they don't work well there - even with children's theatre like the LTM Pantomime.

There are hints that the many characters to whom we are introduced have lives apart from their activities around Runeesha and her bag. Baldpate, a bird, is bald but pretends to be a Rastafarian and says he wants to enter politics; Miss Parrot, who can't sing, wants to be a music teacher; and Sam (Ray Jarrett on Sunday) runs a taxi service.




But their stories don't develop and there is no subplot to the bag-theft story. Full-length plays normally have subplots.

On the other hand, The Winter's Tale is chock-full of storylines, with twists and turns each time they intersect. Stripped of its beautiful language, the tale could easily be a soap opera.

For no good reason, over the course of a few minutes Leontes, King of Sicilia, becomes certain that his pregnant wife, Hermione, has been having an affair with a visiting friend, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. Leontes orders her jailed and Polixines killed.

Hermione is imprisoned, but Camillo, the nobleman forced to agree to carry out the murder, instead flees to Bohemia with Polixines. When, in quick time, Hermione's baby girl is born, Paulina (Judi Dench) shows the girl to Leontes, hoping that he will come to his senses, acknowledge the baby as his and set Hermione free.

No such luck. Leontes orders Antigonus, Paulina's husband, to leave the baby in some barren place to die. Antigonus says he will, but just as he puts the baby on the ground somewhere in Bohemia, a bear enters and chases him down.

The stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear" is perhaps the most famous line in the play. We later hear the animal kills Antigonus. Before that, though, the baby is found by a shepherd.

Sixteen years pass and somehow Polixines's son, Florizel, and Leontes' daughter, Perdita, have met and fallen in love. Neither knows the other is the child of a king. Perdita thinks she is the shepherd's daughter and Florizel is keeping his love-affair with a supposed 'commoner' secret from his father.

But Polixines discovers the affair and angrily orders Florizel to give up the girl or be disowned. Instead, Florizel flees with Perdita and Camillo - to Sicilia, of course. There, Leontes (a changed man since the death of his young son) reunites with his daughter and later Polixines, who had chased after his son.

Leontes is also reunited with his wife, who, he was told, had died 16 years before. An amusing clown and a rogue are among the other characters.

Truly, it is a story fit for a soap opera. Perhaps a pantomime.

Just for the record, I liked the look of the pantomime, meaning Patrick Earle's movement, Michael Lorde's set, Anya Gloudon-Nelson's costumes and Michael McDonald's lighting. The music is also pretty, but, curiously, no composer is named in the programme.