The Winter’s Tale – February 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 21st February 2013

While it was lovely to see this production a second time, the surprise factor was missing, so although the individual performances had all improved, I couldn’t rate the experience any higher than before. This time we sat over by the left walkway, and the change of angle brought out some interesting aspects we hadn’t seen before without blocking our view too much for the rest.

The colourful robes the court were wearing looked like costumes which they had put on to play at being ‘Eastern’; Camillo’s outfit seemed drab by comparison. Archidamus’ lines were much clearer tonight, and I was reminded of TheTaming of the Shrew when Leontes set his wife on Polixenes. Her verbal sparring brought laughter from the court, especially at her mocking use of the word ‘verily’. When the change came, Leontes dropped his fancy robe, so his jealous fit was all enacted in the more sombre colours he would wear for the rest of the first half. Hermione and Polixenes were dancing during the reference to “still virginalling upon his palm”, and there was a second dose of slow motion when Leontes sent his wife and best friend off into the garden.

Leontes circled his hands to represent Hermione’s full belly at ‘no barricade for a belly’, and I thought Camillo was a bit tactless when he harped on about Polixenes not staying at Leontes’ request. There was a lovely pause before Leontes said ‘slippery’, with a strong sibilant ‘s’ at the start. Camillo was amazed at what he heard, but kept his wits about him enough to realise he couldn’t argue with a madman. Leontes showed much suffering as well as his anger and jealousy, and it was hard not to feel some compassion for his madness. Camillo’s conversation with Polixenes was very good, with the details of their dialogue coming across clearly.

During the argument between Leontes and Hermione, he punched her in the stomach which was pretty shocking; last time he just slapped her, which was bad enough. I thought the punch may have been the reason why she delivered Perdita “before her time”. There was a pause after Leontes asked if he’d done well sending to the oracle at Delphi; only one lord responded – “well done, my lord” – and it rang pretty hollow, though the attempt at ‘fairness’ did make Leontes seem a little less deranged.

The messenger who brought the news of Mamillius’ death was one of the nursemaids, and from the way she avoided looking at Leontes as he declared Mamillius’s suffering to be caused by learning of his mother’s dishonour, I felt it was clear that she didn’t agree with the king’s interpretation; it was more likely the effect of discovering his father had gone completely barmy and had put his mother in prison. When Paulina put his little daughter on the cushions, the other men had to hold Leontes off as he went to stamp on the baby or hurt it in some way. Paulina was very strong, standing up to the king when he challenged her over the description of his queen as ‘good’, although it was clear that leaving the baby with this king wasn’t her best idea.

We couldn’t see Leontes so well tonight when he sat on the front steps of the stage during the trial scene, as the tortured chaps and their guard were blocking our view, but I caught glimpses. For “Sir, you speak a language that I understand not”, Hermione used arm and hand movements to illustrate what she was saying as if speaking to a child. Leontes threw this back at her with the line “Your actions are my ‘dreams’”.

When Leontes said “Thy brat has been cast out”, I realised it was the first Hermione has heard of the fate of her baby, and Paulina too for that matter. I saw Paulina’s reaction clearly, as she was on the far diagonal from me at the back of the stage. Hermione went over to her, and they were having some interaction, though I couldn’t make out the detail. Paulina was clearly distressed that her actions had led to the potential death of the baby girl, and from the post-show we learned that Tara Fitzgerald has a range of responses at this moment, from feeling extreme anger with Paulina and wanting to strangle her, to breaking down in tears. Paulina continued to suffer as the scene continued, and the shock of that news led nicely (if I can use that word here) into Hermione’s speech about desiring death. Paulina had a real go at Leontes for ‘killing’ his wife, and in the post-show we learned that Rakie Ayola, who played Paulina, believes that at this point Paulina thinks Hermione is actually dead, but later finds out she isn’t.

We couldn’t see that the boat disappeared from the screen this time as the tower was in our way. However the two shepherds were very good tonight. They seemed to have relaxed into their roles, and took their time a bit more with the lines, getting the points across clearly and getting more laughs as well. David Shaw-Parker played the old shepherd, and was very entertaining as he complained about those silly young folk. I suspect I enjoy these parts more as I get older. Nick Holder as the young shepherd did particularly well with his description of the ship and bear scenarios, punctuating his own interruptions by holding his hands up to stop himself.

The images on the screen during the interval were as before, and for the restart I noticed that Polixenes and Camillo kept to the front of the stage so that the rest of it could stay in darkness, prior to turning into the Bohemian ‘countryside’. Camillo was even more unhappy with the idea of disguises.

Autolycus was much as before but with small variations. He took the ice cream from the man in the right-hand deck chair first, then the bottle of beer from left-hand deck chair, then tried to get the blanket out from under the women front right but she wouldn’t budge until he farted in her face. When she woke up, he then sold her the blanket he’d just taken from her – “My traffic is sheets”. His tent was placed just in front of the tower, and he hid behind it when the young shepherd stirred and started counting fleeces. He and his women had already rolled over and ended up in more sexually active positions, with one of his hands on a breast and the other in a crotch. Perhaps that’s what caused him to wake up?

As the young shepherd was recalling his shopping list, Autolycus stole the sunglasses off the man in the right-hand deck chair, and also broke his fishing rod in half so he could use part of it as a stick. He also smeared some of the raspberry sauce from the ice cream cone onto the side of his face and then, pretending to be blind, he took the shepherd’s purse and watch. In response to the question “a horseman, or a footman?” he pointed out “I’m blind”, and there was humour in the way he slipped up occasionally and made the shepherd suspicious about him. Despite trying to make him blink with sudden hand movements, Autolycus managed to stare into the distance and finally convinced the shepherd he was indeed blind. His final gesture, putting out his hand to shake the shepherd’s and then taking it away at the last minute to thumb his nose, almost gave the game away, but the shepherd just left, shaking his head at this strange behaviour from a blind man. Pearce Quigley also added several slips during Autolycus’s description of himself, starting to say “I” or “me” and then changing it to “he” or “him”. After the shepherd had gone, Autolycus finished his speech, picked up his tent and left, pursued by the accordion player, who rarely left his side. Autolycus paused his song to look at him, then decided it was OK to have him along and started up the song again; they departed together.

When it came to the clog dance, the young shepherd wore a green leafy outfit – the Green Man? – and peed on the audience. Funnily enough, we were in the target area both this time and last. He also dragged Florizel into the middle to do a little solo, and Autolycus did the photography joke again, which was just as funny. For the final stage of the dance, Polixenes and Camillo were brought into the middle of the group and encouraged to sit down with their backs to each other and their legs spread wide. The dancers then did a lot of stamping between their legs, which they were very uncomfortable about, understandably. They got up as soon as they could, and as the dancers dispersed, Polixenes spoke to Florizel “How now, fair shepherd…”. Autolycus seemed to have fewer purses tonight to stash in his turban, and his description of the fate awaiting the shepherd’s son was very funny, not least because of Nick Holder’s reactions.

With the tower turned back round, Cleomenes and Dion were standing at the bottom with Paulina when she reminded them of the oracle’s prophecy; I was aware of the relevance of this, as they were the ones who had brought it from Delphi. She made “Stars, stars” each into a long cry, followed by a haunting “and all eyes else, dead coals!”

The next scene had the lords and Autolycus discussing the amazing events. The lords were smoking cigarettes (cigars last time?) and were very happy – not sure if there was champagne or not. Autolycus asked for information, and the others shared the narration of events. Cleomenes and Dion were the next arrivals with more information, and again they completed each other’s sentences. Antigonus’s fate was simply announced as “He was torn to pieces by a bear” which sobered everyone up for a moment, but then the lords burst out laughing (everyone laughed last time) and Cleomenes skipped over the loss of the ship and straight to Paulina’s reactions. Another lord arrived (the oracle-reader) with the news that the royal party was off to see the statue of Hermione, and they left. When Autolycus tried to go after them, one lord turned round and stopped him with a “No”, so he was left on stage to complain about his own honesty. When the shepherds arrived, the young shepherd was now wearing a wig – very entertaining – and it was this that Autolycus stole from him when they hugged.

The rest of the performance was as before, and it was again greeted with rapturous applause. We stayed on for the post-show – nothing more to add from what I’ve included in the notes – and were glad we had squeezed this one in again.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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