OCTAGON director David Thacker has described The Winter’s Tale as the perfect play to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

It is not difficult to echo his enthusiasm for the tragicomedy – one of the Bard’s final works. Choosing one play out of so many masterpieces must have been a daunting task, but with the multi-layered The Winter’s Tale the playwright offers up both laughter and tears.

The first half of the play focuses on a dark side of human nature – the destructive power of jealousy as it consumes reason in an otherwise honourable and respected man.

Authoritative Rob Edwards commands the stage as King Leontes, the seeds of his jealousy at his wife’s flirtation with his friend quickly growing out of all proportion.

Despite all advice and evidence to the contrary, Leontes is blinkered, talking himself into believing she had been unfaithful and so setting in motion a series of events which leads him to lose all he loves.

Amy Nuttall, making a welcome return to her hometown theatre, is mesmerising as Leontes’ wronged queen, Hermione – her quiet dignity a perfect counterbalance to her husband’s railing against her.

The trial scene where, stripped of her regal garments, she stands defiant against her accuser, brings you to the verge of tears.

And when Leontes, who loses his wife and children due to his own morbid obsession, finally realises the devastation he has wrought, Edwards has the power to evoke confusing emotions in the audience – both sympathy for the man Leontes has become and condemnation.

However, just when all is at its bleakest, following the interval, the play changes gear and jumps several years to the next generation where we are treated to a sudden contrast in worlds.

Where it was dark and full of misery in the kingdom of Leontes, the humble his baby daughter Perdita grows up in is filled with joy and love. The stately palace is replaced with a flower filled Eden where happiness and fun reign.

The light atmosphere is aided by the merry-making of musicians and dancers as well as the brilliant tomfoolery of pickpocketing rogue Autolycus (Colin Connor).

Perdita (Leila Mimmack), who was found and raised by a humble shepherd is blissfully in love with Prince Florizel (Harry Long), but even in this world man’s folly threatens to destroy their happiness as his father, Polixenes, forbids the match, concerned by disparity in status.

Thacker has brought together a peerless cast for this production, which includes Bury-born actress Vicky Binns, Margot Leicester, Christopher Wright and Barbara Drennan. Together they succeed it lifting Shakespeare’s words off the page and creating a contemporary, thought-provoking interpretation.

Yes – this is the perfect play to celebrate the Bard’s anniversary. A rich mixture of all he does best brought to us by a delightful company of players.

It may be approaching Winter, but there is plenty of warmth in this exemplary production.

The Winter’s Tale is on at the Octagon until November 5.