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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The Winter's Tale
by Lizzie Loveridge

I am a feather for each wind that blows.  
-- Leontes

 The Winter's Tale
Douglas Hodge as Leontes and Anastasia Hille as Hermione
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
The Winter's Tale is the first production in London for the Royal Shakespeare's new and controversial pared down company as they vacate what has been their home at the Barbican. Matthew Warchus, the award winning director of Yasmina Reza'a Art is in the director's chair for this most sad of Shakespeare's "comedies". The idea was promising and interesting -- to play Leontes as a passionately jealous Italian American. The raging Leontes (Douglas Hodge) is architect of his own misfortune as he accuses his innocent wife Hermione (Anastasia Hille) of adultery with his friend and ally Polixenes (Rolf Saxon). This irrational and inexplicable behaviour destroys Leontes when as a consequence he loses his wife, his new born daughter, his son and heir and his best friend.

The theme is not lost on me when I reflect that the Royal Shakespeare Company have given up &#pound1.5 million in subsidy to move out of the Barbican into Chalk Farm's Roundhouse. The RSC promised us venues better suited to the productions. This nineteenth century industrial building, historically housed a turntable for turning steam railway engines and was converted to theatre use in the 1960s and more recently has become a music venue. The last show I saw there was the acrobatic, bungee show De La Guarda. The "front of house" is very dark and with people milling around it feels like the rush hour at one of London's railway termini but during a power cut on emergency lighting. The facilities are basic. The show was very late starting because of the limited staircases giving access to the seated area. The RSC have converted it into a circular space with unsprung seating and a promenade area for those who like their Shakespeare mostly standing up.

As a building it is very tall and much of the sound is sucked up and lost in the vast dome. Now compound the problem by having a cast of non-Americans bar three, struggling with the American accent, and you find that some of Shakespeare's language is lost in an acoustic morass. My argument is not against Shakespeare being spoken with an American accent, although I thought it was the American spoken in the Outer Banks of North Carolina that is thought to be most similar to that spoken in Shakespeare's day rather than the Brooklyn version of American.

The next problem is a design one. Matthew Warchus has set his "Sicilia" in the black and white world of 1940s film noir. Vicky Mortimer has designed Leontes' court, the men in elegant in white tuxedos, Hermione in a sparkling evening dress. There is even a conjuror with magic acts including the disappearing lady, as a precursor to Hermione's own disappearance. Now surround your careful monochromatic design with ill assorted people in coloured anoraks, assorted scarves, hats, with duffel bags and coke cans and place them at tables on the outskirts of Leontes' banquet. Give the public a rope to hold while they observe Hermione's trial scene and the promenaders start to look devotional, as if they are there to worship. "Bohemia" fares even worse as the country scenes move to West Virginia with much fiddling, banjos and square dancing that some of the audience join in with. This is a homage that the Coen brothers could well do without.

The concept of Leontes as a brutal gangster and Hermione as his powerless wife works well. He appears in plus fours and spats looking as deranged as he is deluded about his wife's adultery. The trial scene has Hermione in large fetters, full of pathos. She is an exemplary statue in a very moving final scene. In between our hearts leapt to our mouths as Leontes throws the baby Perdita from a high balcony. The baby is thankfully caught by Antigonus. Then all is silence apart from a persistently ringing phone which demands our attention but I'm not sure why?

Of the performances I liked Hodge's shaven head Leontes and Hille's still, calm and emotionally drained Hermione and would have liked them better if I had not had to listen so hard. The African-American actress Myra Lucretia Taylor takes the acting honours as Paulina. It is a strong female part and she was outstanding in defence of her mistress. I was less enamoured by Perdita (Lauren Ward) who did not manage to convey the princess under the country peasant girl. Brian Protheroe was a sagacious Camillo. The bear was very good indeed as we caught flashes of the beast through the strobe lighting.

I wish that Matthew Warchus had stuck to his original plan to produce The Winter's Tale in America with a confident American speaking cast and without the visual distraction of Joe Public in the sight lines. The next two plays in the Roundhouse season of late Shakespeare's are The Tempest directed by the brilliant Michael Boyd and Pericles directed by the RSC's Artistic Director, Adrian Noble.

Other productions of Winter's Tale reviewed at CurtainUp
at Shakespeare & Co.
Public Theatre Outdoors
Williamstown Theatre Festival

The Winter's Tale
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Matthew Warchus

Starring: Douglas Hodge, Anastasia Hille, Myra Lucretia Taylor
With: Brian Protheroe, Jude Akuwudike, Robin Lowe/Kurtis O'Brian, Gracy G Goldman, James Telfer, Olwen May, Toby Parkes/Jacob Parsons, Sirine Saba, Fiona Lait, James Hyland, Alan Turkington, Dan Crute, Jami Quarrell, James Staddon, James Garnon, Rolf Saxon, Lauren Ward, Felix Dexter, Keith Bartlett, Dylan Charles
Design: Vicky Mortimer
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound design: Mic Pool
Movement: Vinny Sacks Music by Gary Yershon
Running time: Three hours fifteen minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1104
Booking to 19th June 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th April 2002 performance at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 Tube Station: Chalk Farm
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