Review: The Video Above and the Shakespeare Below

winters tale rsc 13 (2)


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



One thought on “Review: The Video Above and the Shakespeare Below

  1. Yes, it’s a curious play which doesn’t always come off well from the director’s ‘cut’. The Guardian makes the same point that you make – that at times the set//video “tends to upstage the action” and observes that the fact that the RSC is doing the play for the fifth time in the last fifteen years perhaps prompts an interpretation that is trying a bit too hard to be ‘different’. However, the Pre-Raphaelite look is perfectly captured in the photo that accompanies the review. We haven’t booked tickets for this yet – perhaps we are TWT-ed-out given the number of relatively recent productions.

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