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A CurtainUp London Review
The Winter's Tale
The play opens with a formal dinner at a table with the synchronised omen, the pulling of crackers, the breaking and the snap. Taking as its theme Shakespeare's own loss of his son Hamnet and separation from his wife and daughters, we see Leontes (Greg Hicks) losing his son Mamillius (Alfie Jones/Sebastian Salisbury) and the fall into chaos of the kingdom that was Sicily after jealousy deprives Leontes of everything of value. It is the literal and spectacular collapse of two huge bookcases and the arrival onstage of piles of books and scattered manuscripts, finally crowned by a falling chandelier in the shape of half a globe, that marks out the tragic elements of this enigmatic and imaginative production of Shakespeare's complex tragi-comedy. The jaw dropping impact of this is the stuff of brilliantly effective theatre.
In Act Two the curved glass globe chandelier becomes the hanging vessel for the seated figure of Time (Patrick Romer) to narrate what has happened between the acts. Trees with bronzed papers and books as foliage descend from the flies in a beautiful image of woodland, one housing a flower fairy figure. The Bohemia country revels feature curious creatures in clothes of paper tatters with open books as headdresses, dancing, revealing enormous phalluses. They are quite amazing and alien, harking back to a primitive country ritual before Morris Dancers and Mumming and great fun. So the contrast is achieved between the two settings of The Winter's Tale, the rural spontaneity that is the countryside and the formality of the Sicilian court.
Add to these amazing visuals strong performances and this has to be an award winning production. Starring is Greg Hicks as Leontes, a king with so much to regret. He's a masterly speaker of Shakespeare's verse with his own inbuilt reverberation as his ponderous delivery seems to make his voice vibrate with emphasis.
TNoma Dumezwemi' is a powerful and passionately loyal Paulina pleading for her wronged mistress, Hermione (Kelly Hunter). I have never seen a Hermione stand as still as Kelly Hunter. Great concentration! Darryl D'Silva's solid Polixenes shows us the problems of being an exacting parent towards his independent son Florizel (Tunji Kasim). Perdita (Samantha Young) and Hermione are well cast and look like mother and daughter. Even the Bear is a massive creature with red lit eyes, his fur coat composed of sheets of brown paper and never before was I so aware of the sacrifice made by Antigonus (James Gale) to save the baby Perdita now in the same glass bowl as a Moses cradle.
Keith Clouston's original and evocative music from the live band in between scenes enriches the atmosphere and has been carefully chosen. Among the most moving moments: Hermione's shocking appearance in soiled prison rags and the slow realisation when it dawns on Leontes the injustice of what he has done and of course the touching reunion of mother and daughter with the sorrowful Leontes.
This is a production not to be missed. And New York audiences will be able to see it next summer at Lincoln Center.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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