The Hampstead Players 2011 Summer Production

The Winter's Tale at Questors Theatre, Ealing on 27th April 2012



Last July the Hampstead Players performed "The Winter's Tale", by William Shakespeare, as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's open stages programme for amateur companies. Over the country as a whole some 263 amateur companies took part, about 60 of them in the London and South East region. The next stage of this programme is a series of Regional Showcase performances, selected from the productions put on in 2011 and 2012. That for London and the South East will take place at Questors Theatre, Ealing, between the 12th and 28th April. The Hampstead Players are amongst those who have been invited to take part by presenting all or part of their production. On Friday, 27th April, at 7.45 pm, the first half of "The Winter's Tale" will be performed by Archway Theatre Horley and the second half, starting from the scene which includes the famous stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear", and continuing to the end, will be performed by the Hampstead Players.

The Players are delighted at the recognition implied by this invitation and hope to make the most of the opportunity, but they would welcome your support. If you enjoyed last summer's production and would like the opportunity to see it again in a proper theatre, or if you are sorry you missed it, here is your opportunity. Tickets are now on sale from the Questors box office, tel. 020 8567 5184 or online at The charge for a single performance is £6 (£4 concession). Shakespeare lovers who would like to see more can alternatively purchase weekly passes or a pass for the whole season. Seats are unreserved but there is plenty of good viewing space in this well tiered 350 seat theatre. Details of the whole programme for the period are on Questors website -

Questors Theatre is in Mattock Lane, Ealing, W13. Parking may be limited. Best way by public transport is by British Rail from Paddington or Central Line underground to Ealing Broadway station, from where it is about an 8 to 10 minutes' walk.

If you cannot manage the 27th but still want to see us, we will allow free entrance (voluntary donation) to our final dress rehearsal in church at 7.30 pm on Thursday 26th April - but we would rather you came to Questors.


John Willmer

"The Winter's Tale" is one of Shakespeare's later plays, which have come to be known as romances. About twenty years before Shakespeare wrote it, there was a play by George Peele entitled "The Old Wives' Tale", in which an old woman was asked to tell a merry winter's tale to pass the time. So a winter's tale can be regarded as the equivalent of an old wives' tale. Such tales were not unlike fairy stories, not realistic but involving improbable adventures, unexpected losses and findings, magic, dreams, romance and usually a happy ending. In short, a romantic improbability.

The play begins at the court of Leontes, king of Sicilia, and his heavily pregnant wife, Hermione. Leontes's long time friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia, has been paying a long visit and now wishes to depart. Leontes fails to persuade him to stay longer, but Hermione succeeds in doing so. This triggers a sudden fit of jealousy and a conviction on Leontes's part that Hermione has committed adultery with Polixenes and that the child about to be born is not his. He even appears to question the paternity of his young son Mamillius. He seeks to persuade Camillo, a Sicilian lord, to poison Polixenes. Camillo, however, believing Hermione innocent, warns Polixenes of his danger and flees Sicilia with him.

This triggers an even more violent reaction from Leontes, who removes Mamillius from Hermione's care and, despite the protestations of Antigonus, another lord, and others, has Hermione imprisoned. There she bears a daughter. Paulina, wife of Antigonus and friend of Hermione, persuades Hermione to allow her to take the child to Leontes, hoping that this will soften him, but the result is the reverse of what she hopes. Leontes first orders Antigonus to kill the child, relenting only so far as to order him to take her to a remote and desert place out of his kingdom and abandon her.

At this point the lords Cleomenes and Dion return from Delphi, where Leontes has sent them to consult the oracle. Believing that this will prove his case, Leontes orders the trial of Hermione for treason and adultery. However the oracle declares Hermione innocent and Leontes a jealous tyrant. It adds that Leontes shall live without an heir if the babe which is lost be not found. Thereupon Leontes declares the oracle false, but its prophecy immediately starts to be fulfilled, with announcements, first, that Mamillius is dead and, shortly afterwards, that Hermione is dead.

This convinces Leontes that he was wrong and he bitterly repents. But is it too late? Antigonus has left the baby on the coast of Bohemia in a storm. He has had a vision of Hermione telling him to name the child Perdita, the lost one, and also that he shall see his wife no more. Sure enough a bear pursues and kills him. (Stage direction - "Exit, pursued by a bear"). The tragedy seems complete, but, as the first half ends, a shepherd finds Perdita alive and takes her up.

The action in the second half takes place sixteen years later, when Perdita has grown up, believed by all to be the shepherd's daughter. We first see her dressed as queen of the party at the shepherds' summer festival, a jolly affair, additionally enlivened by the appearance of the rogue Autolycus. She is accompanied by Prince Florizel, the son of Polixenes, who is masquerading as a shepherd under the name of Doricles, having stumbled across Perdita when out with his falcon. The two are in love but are soon to be frustrated. Polixenes and Camillo, also disguised, arrive as guests at the party to find out what Florizel is doing. On seeing the state of affairs, Polixenes, not considering a shepherd's daughter a fit wife for a prince, removes his disguise, forbids the marriage, threatens to disinherit Florizel unless he leaves Perdita for ever and threatens Perdita herself and the Shepherd, her reputed father, with death, and then departs.

After further adventures and machinations, everyone ends up at the court of Leontes. This is still in a state of wintry gloom, with the penitent Leontes having agonised for sixteen years over his cruel folly. Some of his lords want him to marry again to produce an heir, which idea is opposed by Paulina. For the better enjoyment of those who do not know the play, I shall not reveal the outcome of all these matters. Suffice it to say that the ending is both surprising and emotional and contains food for thought.

Underlying this play, like other "Winter's Tales" of that time, are the Christian ideas of falling from grace, sin, repentance and redemption. Events too evoke both the depredations of time and its potential for deliverance. These are timeless tales and so we shall not set the play in any particular era. Shakespeare wrote for a bare stage and so shall we perform, with no real set and mainly symbolic indications of location. The power of the play lies in Shakespeare's wonderful language. We have been fortunate to be accepted into the RSC Open Stages programme for amateur companies in 2011-2012. One of the benefits of this is that several of the cast have had the opportunity to attend and learn from an RSC workshop.

The presentation of this play will be a challenge. Come and see it and tell us how we do.