Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale

29 May

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Plot: Leontes (Simon Russell Beale), mistakenly believes that his childhood friend Polixenes (Josh Hamilton), the King of Bohemia, is having an affair with his wife, Queen Hermione (Rebecca Hall). In his jealousy, and consumed by “tremor cordis”, he tries to murder Polixenes, who flees, and accuses his wife of adultery and that the child she is carrying is Polixenes’. Imprisoned and put on trial, the Queen collapses when the King refuses to accept divine confirmation of her innocence. The child is abandoned to die on the coast of Bohemia but when she is found and raised by a shepherd, redemption and reconciliation may just be possible.

This is the second time I have watched a company perform in repertory a Chekhov and Shakespeare revival, RSC’s The Seagull and King Lear in 2007 and this time The Bridge Project’s The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale. Why am I bringing this up in my review? I suppose it’s the fascination to the actors dedication and discipline as they switch characters every so often during a work week than most women have to deal with their mood swings. Both plays deal with tragedy and hope and I’d like to set that tone as I review this piece.

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Now I have never seen such male jealousy displayed here in great magnitude by Leontes. I always thought being jealous is more of a woman thing. Leontes is so angry, that you know he just couldnt think straight and you can see him agonising over it at the same time. I wasnt sure whether to sympathize with him or to gloat that he deserved losing his son and his wife but at the same time you also feel for him, feel his pain for his wrong judgment. This is again, another outstanding performance from Simon Russell Beale who shone the brightest in the first half of this play. His delivery of your actions are my dreams! whilst snarling at Hermione was tortured yet vulnerable. His moments with the baby whom he initially called a bastard was endearing, touched by its cooing but after another momentary lapse of confusion breaks free and wishes the child ill. I mean how he managed to even show fine acting by means of his body language, I will never know.

Not to be outdone is the luminous but talented Rebecca Hall who definitely owned the courtroom as she defended herself of the accusations hurled at her by her King. Their reunion in the end was absolutely moving. Sinead Cusack was excellent as the fierce Paulina. I thought she was better as Paulina than Ranevskaya. The most famous Shakespearean stage direction, Exit, pursued by a bear, describing the death of Antigonus elicited an appreciate laughter from the audience.

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Now Ethan Hawke. I have a soft spot for him having watched most of his films. I was thrilled to find out that he has forayed into theatre and was part of this company. I had a bit of a problem with him as Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, but as Autolycus, he was sensational! The slow but equally powerful pace of the first half was balanced by a burning second half with great music played by Hawke himself. Richard Easton as the Old Shepherd, Paul Jesson as Camillo, Josh Hamilton as Polixenes and Tobias Segal have done noteworthy performances. I have to say Sam Mendes did it again! If you’re in the UK and a fan of Shakespeare, dont miss this stunning production.

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The Winter’s Tale: 4.5/5
Playing at the Old Vic until August 15

Photos courtesy of BAM’s Flickr photostream and the New York Times

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One Response to “Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale”

  1. Quentin June 9, 2009 at 11:24 pm #

    Didn’t enjoy this at all, I’m afraid.

    In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more miscast production…

    Ethan Hawke as Autolycus doesn’t have a comic bone in his body, and failed to raise a single laugh as Autolycus;

    Simon Russell Beale has beautiful fluency with Shakespeare but he’s no Leontes. He made the King of Sicilia a camp, tubby, ridiculous figure, utterly incapable of inspiring awe or fear in anyone.

    And finally, Rebecca Hall! Totally out of her depth in a dreadful, one note performance.

    True, I was crying at the final scene when they are reunited – but it was tears of laughter: they looked like a comedy couple when they embraced: Hall a foot taller and thirty years younger than Russell Beale. My favourite Shakespeare play and my favourite moment in a Shakespeare play utterly ruined.

    Save your money…

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