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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE WINTER'S TALE
at the Courtyard (Stratford-upon-Avon)

BY LOVE (DIS)POSSESSED
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  Greg Hicks and Kelly Hunter

The summer season at Stratford gets under way with a handsome but flawed revival by new associate director David Farr of a play the Royal Shakespeare Company has often stamped with distinctive design, from all-white nurseries in Sicily, where Leontes is stricken with unjustified jealousy, to the teeming folk festival of the sheep shearing in Bohemia.

Unusually, but characteristically for a director well-versed in the European conceptual theatre and cataclysmic stagings of the Icelandic troupe Vesturpurt that he often presented during his regime at the Lyric, Hammersmith, Farr tries to combine the two worlds separated by oceans and sixteen years. He does so with mixed success.

The tall bookshelves of the dining room where Greg Hicks's outstanding Leontes, bilious beyond redemption, brands his queen Hermione an adulteress, hobby-horse and "bed-swerver" for extending civil courtesies to the visiting monarch, Polixenes, collapse inwards in step with the domestic catastrophe. The stage is strewn with books and flying papers.

Now, you wonder, how will Jon Bausor's design clear the stage for the rustic revelry? The answer is: it doesn't. It's as though what happens in Bohemia is written in the pages of Sicily's history, to the extent that those same pages cling to the branches of the trees, constitute the ballads traded by the clown Autolycus along with his jewels and trifles, and clothe the herdsmen who stomp lewdly with huge phalluses through the satyr dance. This paper trail emanates, too, from the famous bear - as in the stage direction, "exits pursued by bear" - whom the noble Antigonus (James Gale) defies while rescuing the baby Perdita from her father's wrath, and the sea's tempest, only this time, the bear's a paper tiger, manipulated by visible puppeteers, who simply opens his arms and sucks in the old boy.

One of the distinctive qualities of the Michael Boyd RSC era is the strong Celtic make-up in his companies. Many of his favourite actors are Scottish, and this company - which marks the start of a new RSC ensemble - includes John Mackay as the honest Camillo and Samantha Young as a hard-edged Perdita, while the Irish are represented by Brian Doherty's bleary, blaggardly Autolycus and Tunji Kasim's eager Florizel.

The main casting is the special strength, though. Greg Hicks is an ideal Leontes, quivering with ill-judged disgust, eaten with self-righteous dismay, and he gives a master class in precision and control in the great speeches- he's just the actor, too, to embrace the thunderbolt of his mistake and hide himself away in spiritual redemption with those daily visits to the chapel.

It is an age since Kelly Hunter was with the RSC, opening the new Other Place in Trevor Nunn's productions of The Blue Angel and Measure for Measure, but it was worth the wait. She is a magnificent emotional actress, and she charts three clear stages in Hermione's story: the radiant hostess, bulging with pride and pregnancy at the feast -the abandoned wife, tattered and distraught, smeared in her own birth-giving blood, humiliated at the trial -and the ice-cold statue on the plinth, melting into love and reunion.

Darryl D'Silva is an excellent Polixenes, finding his own parallel parental anger when disguised as a tweedy traveller in Bohemia, like some eccentric bird-watcher, and there's vivid support from Noma Dumezweni as an occasionally over-garbled Paulina, Gruffudd Glyn as a caricature of a stupid Welsh peasant shepherd boy and Sam Troughton as a notably well-spoken courtier. A promising start to the summer, at least.