Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Winter's Tale Review

The Winter's Tale
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Starting the RSC's 2013 summer season (ignoring the fact that we are only in February) is Lucy Bailey's production of The Winter's Tale. Since seeing David Farr's 2009 striking production I have been fascinated by the story of a man overcome with jealousy, which results in his downfall. However despite all he has done he is forgiven by the end. I was therefore looking forward to seeing this production.

My knowledge of Lucy Bailey goes back to the 2009 production of Julius Caesar, and the impression I have is that she dealt with the text of both using broad brush strokes. For example, it was interesting to see the Romans presented as ultra-violent in Julius Caesar, but this did not allow the actors to develop their characters.

When approaching Leontes in this production, Bailey kept indicating his jealousy by turning idyilic Sicilia cold and putting red lights on Hermione to represent her from Leontes' point-of-view. This would be fine stylistically, but Jo Stone-Fennings was not able to expand on Leonte's jealousy. He would wail with angst, rant with menace in his voice, and at one point punched his pregnant wife's stomach, but that was about it. In contrast there was Tara Fitzgerald, making her RSC debut, who gave a mature and resolute Hermione, and during the trial she cried out her pleas in agony. Against this performance, Fennings' Leontes comes off as a bit childish, which made his continuing jealousy unbelievable and tiring.

However, the second act was an improvement once the play got to Bohemia. It is even a tad better than the David Farr production. Instead of having the country folk wavering aubergines from their lower parts into the faces of those in the front row, Bailey provided some fantastic Morris dancing. I prefer Brian Doherty from the 2009 production, but Pearce Quigley's Autolycus was a suave thief, excellent at quickly changing disguises on the go and providing a lot of the hilarious moments of the production.. Emma Noakes meanwhile was a feisty Perdita and together with Gavin Fowler as Florizel they were a lovely couple.

Once again Lucy Bailey's husband, William Dudley, has designed the production using projections. Thankfully they did not detract from the performances as much as they did in Julius Caesar, and they showed a nice transformation of Sicilia during the first act. Sadly I was sitting at the back of the stalls at the side and therefore half the projections were obscured by the gallery above me, including the famous bear moment. However, as much as I got the point of Leontes locking himself away in a tower for 16 years, did the production really need a whopping big structure rising from below the stage and taking up the back of the stage for the second act. The tower did not even make sense with the change of setting to the British countryside backdrop of Bohemia. Maybe Bailey was showing a contrast in class between the pre-Raphaelite Sicilians and the country-folk of Bohemia, but it still begs the question of the geographical position of the two countries.

Once again Lucy Bailey has created a very stylistic production, but once again had left some of the acting half baked. Some of William Dudley's designs were good whilst others were unnecessary. I would recommend the production just to see the second act, but this should only be seen at a Bargain.

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