The Winter’s Tale ***
Royal Shakespeare Company Ensemble, The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Performed in Repertoire from Tuesday 31st March – Saturday 3rd October
David Farr directs a traditional interpretation of The Winter’s Tale, for the first production of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new two-and-a-half year ensemble group, emphasising storytelling elements and allowing for the flaws of human nature theme to take centre stage. Initially, two grand oversized bookcases loom over the action, creating a dark and menacing backdrop for the legendary jealousy and suspicion Leontes’ suffers because of his wife’s flirtatious behaviour. The books then dramatically tumble to the floor in a storm of resentment, and the resulting tragic consequences of Leontes’ actions, to create designed paper and book debris for the less formal feel of Bohemia in the second half.
Greg Hicks beautifully masters the poetic speech of Leontes, creating a very real character, who is the victim of his own paranoia and stubbornness in the first half, and then showing the heartening redemption of a broken man in concluding scenes. Hicks’ thoughtful performance is matched adequately by Kelly Hunter’s Herminone, whose emotional journey in the first half is intensely affecting and performed with great dignity. The second half is dominated by the witty comic performances of Larrington Walker’s Old Shepherd, Gruffudd Glyn’s Young Shepherd and Brian Doherty’s travelling trickster Autolycus. Importance is also put on the romantic struggle of Florizel and Perdita, played by Tunji Kasim and Samantha Young, who seem genuinely distressed and disheartened when they are discovered by Polixenes (Darrell D’Silva).
Commonly believed when The Winter’s Tale is produced, this production could be described as a play of two halves, in both style and in substance. The strength of the dramatic performance, and Jon Bausor’s threateningly elegant set, of the first half far surpass the comedy and light-hearted elements of the second half. Although Farr may choose to remain with a conventional and accepted interpretation of the work, the difficult play is lovingly performed by the new Royal Shakespeare Company ensemble.
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