The Winter’s Tale – January 2007

8/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Wednesday 3rd January 2007

I enjoyed this performance much more than the previous time. We were sitting across from our first seats, and a gallery higher, which gave us a very different perspective. Having just had our own New Year celebration, I felt more in tune with the opening scene, and I was able to get into the swing, helping with the countdown, etc. Although I missed some of the scene, as it was played out right underneath us, I did catch up on the parts that Time had been blocking before, so overall I was more engaged from the start. I suspect it was partly due to our familiarity with the layout, partly because we were in a better position (and a complementary position to our earlier experience), and some credit also has to go to Robert Smallwood, who gave us Winter Scholars a superb lecture on the play, which he considers his favourite, if not indeed Shakespeare’s best. Based on his lachrymose experiences, I must admit to having a touch of the Smallwoods tonight, several times.

I was only aware of one difference in the staging from last time. As far as I could tell, the music that played over the opening scene was here restricted to just one part of the scene, which helped enormously. I could be remembering it wrongly, of course – it’s amazing what even a few short weeks can do to my memory. Other than that, the staging was as before, but this time I was aware of much more, and could see a lot that I’d missed first time round.

I was well aware how angry I felt at Leontes when he arraigned his wife when she’d hardly recovered from giving birth – the bastard. I wanted to hiss and boo him, but there wasn’t really a good opportunity (not without getting myself evicted, anyway). I could also feel a desire to throw things down onto the actors innocently performing below – a strong temptation which I fortunately resisted (see eviction point above). The promenade layout meant there were far more restrictions on the view from the upper gallery than normal, but although my perch was a little precarious at times as I leaned this way and that to catch as much as I could of the performances, I still found myself caught up in the play as I hadn’t been before.

Autolycus was just the same, and still failed to impress me. He seemed quite dull and uninteresting, without much detail to the performance. Nudity is all very well (in his case, VERY well!), but it’s not enough for this part. After the talks today, I was more aware of whether certain lines had been cut – it appears both bits our speakers thought would be dropped or severely edited were included pretty fully – the sheep shearing computation, and the reporting of the reconciliation scene, which was done very well. At first we have a lone reporter putting some copy onto his tape recorder, then someone official-looking comes out with a microphone to report more details, then another chap, even more important, adds the final touches. I thought it worked very well, especially in the light of today’s press conferences and spin doctoring waffle.

I still found the “shelf” that doubles as Mamillius’ bedroom and Leontes’ study (or has he just installed himself in his dead son’s bedroom to appease his grief?) ludicrously small – Leontes must have a pocket kingdom if that’s how big the rooms in his palace are. I did spot what Mamillius is playing with at bedtime, though – he’s tossing up a cuddly black bear, just like the one that’s going to eat Antigonus! I saw more of that bear this time, too, as it came on opposite us, and I noticed how quickly the promenaders cleared out of its way when it chased the poor old man. Shame! If they’d ganged up on it, they might have saved him. (Not that I was planning on rushing down there to lend a hand.)

I was more aware of the various decorations hanging from the ceiling this time, both the New Year’s celebration streamers and the sheep shearing flags. With several Winter Scholars in the audience, that was a bit of a distraction too, as I checked out their reactions occasionally. Having said that, the time flew – I’ve no idea when it finished, and I only glanced at my watch once, which is unusual, even in a good production.

I liked the way Time used music to convey the passage of sixteen years – his radio played “Catch a Falling Star” before his speech, and afterwards it was “California Dreaming”. The sheep shearing celebrants were clearly hippies, and Autolycus more of a drug pusher, but that fitted with the set up, as did the rather spaced out chap who tried to join in the group dance without a partner.

A friend commented on the statue facing away from most of the audience, which is a fair point, and I still think this layout doesn’t really suit the Swan – perhaps a purpose-built auditorium with careful consideration given to sightlines might work OK, but not this mish-mash. However, it was still enjoyable, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I felt it had improved over the first viewing.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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