THE Winter's Tale is "a bonkers piece", or so says Natalie Rose Quatermass, director of the latest York Shakespeare Project production.

"It has a little bit of everything: tragedy and comedy, Kings, queens, clowns, a few sheep…and a bear! What more do you want?" she asks, as she prepares to stage Shakespeare's epic story of jealousy, betrayal, love and redemption with a community cast from at 41 Monkgate from Tuesday.

"As it's a bonkers piece, you have to enter into it with a gung-ho attitude; there are so many things where you're going, 'why is Shakespeare doing this?'," says Natalie. "It's a punk piece of theatre, but ultimately it's a play about hope and I really understood it when I had an experience where I felt political hope – during the General Election. That was a key time.

"I went back to the play and got to the heart of it: it's about how no matter how band things are, there will always be a silver lining, and if it's still bad, it's not the end, so keep going."

The Winter's Tale is a twisting tale of two halves; Kings and Queens meet peasants and shepherds; jealousy and destruction meet laughter and young love. King Leontes of Sicilia (played by Paul French) suspects his pregnant wife Hermione (Juliet Waters) of an affair with Polixenes, the King of Bohemia (Nick Jones). Leontes' obsessions end in disaster, tearing his family and friends apart.

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Director Natalie Rose Quatermass at a rehearsal for York Shakespeare Project's The Winter's Tale

The sun sets and rises, winter turns to spring and 16 years roll by, whereupon Shakespeare heads off to a raucous Bohemia, where the pickpockets, peasants and party-goers are preparing for a sheep-shearing festival. Everyone is invited to eat, drink and be merry at the house of the old Shepherd (Roger Farrington). Florizel, Prince of Bohemia (Thomas Jennings), has fallen in love with the shepherd’s daughter, Perdita (Jess Murray), but the course of true love never did run smooth.

Natalie was determined that the cast should not treat Shakespeare as different to performing any other playwright. "I have a background in community theatre and youth theatre and I'm passionate about it not having to be your profession in order that you can play it. Grown-ups need a space to play and that space can be theatre," she says.

"That's difficult when we're constantly told that Shakespeare is high-brow and you have to be smart to access it, but actually, when he created it, it was the opposite of that. So I've not approached the text any differently than if it wasn't Shakespeare, though the Bear presents difficulties!

"One of my favourite sayings is 'it's called 'a play, not 'a serious', so we've spent a lot of time in rehearsal playing and being very silly to get any fear of the words out of the way.

"Yes, Shakespeare's great, but there's a lot of great work out there, so stop giving it so much reverence, as it's not going to create a fun evening of entertainment otherwise."

Reverence removed, nevertheless the disastrously obsessive behaviour of Leontes is most definitely addressed seriously in Natalie's production. "There's a toxic masculinity that surrounds Leontes, but what's interesting is that it's obvious from everyone's reaction that he's not a well man; in our day and age, we can see how delusional he is."

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"There's a really magical element to Flora Greysteel's performance style," says director Natalie Rose Quatermass. Picture: Yellow Mustang Photography

Shakespeare often wrote of Man's mental state, be it Leontes, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Malvolio, Richard III, Ophelia, the list goes on. "I played Hamlet at 16 in the crypt of Liverpool Cathedral [the Roman Catholic one] with my youth theatre group, and it wasn't until four years later, when I suffered a depressive breakdown, that I really 'got it' and understood it," says Natalie.

"So we've had a lot of conversations about what it is that drives Leontes to do what he does to his wife in a play that gives it very little build-up, so it has to have been going on for a long time, and we also have to look at his mood swings; he's extremely erratic. It's another sign of the damaging impact of the ultimate power of the top dog who doesn't have any boundaries, and we're seeing that in the world today with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in North Korea...except that in this play these wonderful women stand up to it."

One of Natalie and designer Ben Prusiner's big challenges is to create two distinct worlds in Sicilia and Bohemia, while still keeping a sense of continuity. "In our production, Sicilia is influenced by York’s weighty historical buildings, which act as reminder of our hierarchical, often patriarchal history. Bohemia is influenced by York’s surrounding arable land, its folk culture and love of a good ale," she says.

York duo Flora Greysteel will fly the audience to a wintery Sicilia, a rustic Bohemia and back again on the wings of their original music, played live by Simon Bolley and Emily Rowan, whose melancholic, bittersweet sound opens the door to the fairytale worlds around us. "As I read the play, I heard Emily Rowan's voice in my head," says Natalie.

"I'd worked with her on several youth projects, such as Mr Puntila And His Man Matti, and with lots of vocal looping and reverb, there's a really magical element to Flora Greysteel's performance style. They can encapsulate Bohemia and their music can be dark and twisted too for Sicilia."

York Shakespeare Project's The Winter's Tale, John Cooper Studio @ 41 Monkgate, York, from October 24's open dress rehearsal to October 28 at 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at