For all his faults, Othello is at least worthy of our pity. After all, Iago carefully poisoned Othello’s mind to believe that his new bride Desdemona was committing adultery with a young lieutenant. Were it not for Iago, the pair might have lived happily ever after.
But in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Leontes, the King of Sicilia, only has himself to blame for his downfall. When he becomes convinced that his loving wife Hermoine is sleeping with his best friend Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, it is entirely the product of his own irrational paranoia and tyranny, which ends up destroying his family and throwing his kingdom into chaos.
David Farr’s production, which marks the fourth to be presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company in its residence at the Park Avenue Armory, is not all that different from many other recent stagings of the play. And while it is certainly not the worst production to be presented so far by the RSC, it is the least exciting or original.
The first half of the play, which charts Leontes’ ongoing suspicions and Hermoine’s trial, is set in a stately, candle-lit Edwardian atmosphere. When the setting shifts to Bohemia, two towering bookshelves tilt over, causing all the books to fall down. It is a striking scenic effect to mark the destruction of one world and the transition into another.
The scenes in frothy and rural Bohemia are far less well-staged and fall flat. Still, the famous moment where a bear kills one of Leontes’ servants is reinterpreted in a War Horse style, with a team of actors manipulating a giant puppet made out of paper.
Greg Hicks’ captivating performance as Leontes is definitely the production’s best asset. Hicks conveys how the character’s suspicions have driven him into a state of terror and insecurity. The thrust stage allows Hicks to directly confess his fears to audience members.
Kelly Hunter makes for an unusual Hermoine, who usually remains passive even while being falsely accused, by mirroring Leontes’ aggressive emotions. Barefoot and wearing a dress stained with dirt and blood, Hunter screams in agony back at her husband during her trial.
A few company members are better cast here than in some of the other plays. Tonji Kasim, whose young and boyish presence is inappropriate for the villainous Edmund in King Lear, is a fine Prince Florizel. Noma Dumezweni, who is too chilly as the nurse in Romeo & Juliet, is appropriately fiery as Paulina, who fearlessly chastises Leontes for his behavior.