The Winter’s Tale – December 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th December 2006

This production sees the Swan boarded over to create a promenade space, with the seating being in the galleries only. It reminded me of the Roundhouse production, and given how much the RSC has taken on this year with the complete works, doing many productions themselves, it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to reuse several good productions of the recent past. After all, Michael Boyd has resuscitated his Henrys (seeing those in February).

There was a long, curved walkway spiralling down from the right gallery level to the ground by what would normally be the main entrance to the auditorium. All metal. There was a walkway across the left front of the gallery, the side we were sitting on this time. At the back, the balconies had been extended forward, to create a reasonable sized room for some of the scenes – Mamillius’s bedroom and  Leontes’ study. It was a bit small, though, and the actors had to keep out of each other’s way so characters could get in and out of the door. I know Leontes shuts himself away, but this is ridiculous! Otherwise, various pieces of furniture, platforms, etc., were brought on as needed.

At the start, there was an actor sitting on the walkway just to my right. He was dressed as a gardener and appeared to be working with a tray of seedlings. I had no idea who he was (he turned out to be Time, who delivers the introduction to the second half), but he blocked my view quite badly at the start, so that I lost much of the emotional aspects of the early stages, especially Leontes inciting Camillo to kill Polixinus. I also found I lost a lot of the dialogue – not sure how much was down to the more open nature of the performance space, and how much down to delivery. The more experienced actors were fine, on the whole, but some of the younger ones weren’t so punchy, and didn’t always inflect their speeches so well. There was music at the start which continued over the dialogue, and I found that got in the way a bit.

Autolycus was as scantily clad as I’ve seen in the Swan, excepting Tales from Ovid, but didn’t impress me (as a production choice, I mean). The sheep-shearing celebration seemed a bit tame – although the promenaders helped in terms of numbers, they were just standing around, and made the whole thing seem a bit dull. It was also a bit off-putting when it came to the more intimate scenes, such as Camillo advising Florizel and Perdita to flee to Sicilia. I still got emotional at the reunion scene.

All in all I felt the production didn’t suit the Swan space, the rearrangements made it difficult to see what was going on, and to hear clearly, and although it was a lively production with a lot of good performances (Nigel Cooke and Anton Lesser particularly) it just didn’t sparkle for me.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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