The Winter’s Tale
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford
Until 23 Feb, then touring
by Richard Lutz
The real star in this production of The Winter’s Tale is not an actor. It is the overwhelming video installation that dominates the stage. It is magnificent.
It displays the unending movement of a twinkling sea, the wind, the dawn clouds, the changing stars. It is a visual masterpiece by director Lucy Bailey, designer William Dudley and video maestro Alan Cox.
It dominates the play. Below are the actors performing one of Shakespeare’s late fables about jealousy, guilt and redemption. A king, Leontes, believes his best friend is his wife’s lover. He calls for the execution of his wronged pregnant spouse and, when her child is born, he has the newborn girl left on a wild beach in neighbouring Bohemia (which somehow gains a shoreline)
Then the king takes to a tower to sit in angry silent isolation for sixteen years.
But his abandoned daughter, Perdita, has been unknowingly rescued by yokels who make hay in the summer sun. She lives an idyllic existence in a re-creation of a Lancashire seaside town- all broad northern accents and Bill Tidy characters merrymaking, Morris dancing and happily mucking about.
So- the inevitable duality of the sophisticated court wrapped in guilty gloom. And the rural folk (and the secret princess) having a whale of a time.
But somehow this production falls flat. Jo Stone-Fewings, as the fuming king, is histrionic and, at times, simply hammy. The play drags and the inevitable earthy jollity of the parochial seaside fun ‘n games just doesn’t lift the play enough to lighten the contrasting dark brooding themes from the royal court.
Your eye tends to wander back to that moving video backdrop for entertainment.
Full marks though to Rakie Ayola as the loyal wise courtier Paulina who saves the day (and the queen too). She takes the role and gives it a sparky modern twist; bossing, chiding and berating the twisted king about what he did wrong and how he can redress his inane jealous actions. Tara Fitzgerald, as Queen Hermione, gallantly portrays a grounded and innocent victim of madness.
But high above the stagecraft is that huge visual picture of the stars, the sea, the unending sky. It saves the day for what is a late great play by Shakespeare about a king, his lunatic temper and his ultimate love for an innocent queen he wronged.
Tix: 0844 800 1110