The Winter's Tale/ Romeo and Juliet Library Theatre, Manchester/ Contact Theatre, Manchester

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The Independent Culture
Just conceivably, there is a fine point where the taste and interest of the laddish student and the critic, still dazzled by some Polish Pericles, coincide. This is the point that the director of regional Shakespeare must locate in about three weeks and with 10 actors at most. If it's too "young", the critic will mutter about "text" and the real young will think it's naff. Too "traditional" and the notices will yearn for Poznan.

Neither the Library's The Winter's Tale nor Contact's Romeo and Juliet can be said to envisage the works anew, but the nights I was there the attention of the young audiences was absolute. Chris Honer's Winter's Tale takes the greater risk - though he does bottle out of giving us that bear. But Valentine Pelka's owlish, introspective Leontes is quietly far more adventurous and psychologically subtle a portrayal than the green- eyed roaring monsters that the part often calls forth. When he plays with Mamillius we sense that he has always been awkward with children, and that this is part of the profound inhibition which seizes on Hermione's supposed unfaithfulness. It is a thoughtful performance requiring particular attention, but also greater projection from the actor.

Irina Brown's Romeo and Juliet is also distinguished by an arresting, though utterly different central performance. Elizabeth Chadwick's mettlesome Juliet hurls herself into the action with all the lack of inhibition of an exuberant child. She gives the plausible impression of being on the cusp of adolescence and it is her physical energy, especially in the ball scene, counterpointing the stillness of death, which makes her performance poignant. She all but eclipses Simon Scardifield's Romeo, who is at his most youthfully lightsome as a trilbied poser before he meets her.

On this evidence, high physicality is Irina Brown's style. The fights, staged by Renny Krupinski, are genuinely thrilling, but some of the posturing by Mercutio and the other "testosteroni" is tiresomely embellished.

This expressionism is complemented by Andrew Wood's spacious, abstract set. It's hard to see the point of a slender ramp that suddenly heads vertically for the roof, but the huge thunder sheet serving for alarum, percussive effect and finally the doomy clang of Juliet's tomb is a fine inspiration.

Abstraction, and the stark loneliness of arcades, mark Paul Kondras and Ian Somerville's design for The Winter's Tale. It is often superbly lit and the costumes provide a patina of sophistication to the court scene. But the scene changes are fussy, even clumsy. The student put that in his write-up.

n 'The Winter's Tale' to25 Nov (0161-236 7110); 'Romeo and Juliet' to 18 Nov (0161-274 4400)

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