The Winter's Tale (Old Vic, 6th June 2009)

‘O call back yesterday, bid time return’
The line is above the stage as you take your seats. It’s a line from Richard II and not The Winter’s Tale as you might expect when you’ve come to see The Winter’s Tale. The scene in front of the audience is a very domestic scene. The family meal is set out, in contrast to the formal banquet that was set out in David Farr’s RSC production. The production doesn’t start with the two courtiers, but with Mamillius (Morven Christie) and his sad tale for winter. This makes us feel that we are now witnessing the imaginings of the small child rather than we are eavesdropping on the private business of the court through the conversation of the courtiers. The table returns for the sheep shearing feast later in the play.
There have been really mixed reviews of this production, and I can’t really see why some of the critics had some issues with it. I felt that the production made some really brave creative decisions and Simon Russell Beale, as Leontes, was just stunning. He can convey so much through his expression and gesture (like Brenda Blethyn in my review of Haunted). It was clear from the start that Leontes has suspicions and that his jealousy was not sudden. This was conveyed by his expression as Russell stood between Hermione (Rebecca Hall) and Polixenes (Josh Hamilton) when he asks Hermione to entreat Polixenes to stay. The result of this was that he did not hesitate around going into his ‘Too hot, Too hot’ speech stressing the consonant’s with confidence that he is being proved right.
In this production, there are moments when Rusell Beale’s Leontes waivers in his jealousy as if this is not an illness with no way out at the time as Antony Sher played the role in 1999. In this production it feels like Leontes is responsible for his behaviour and can change at any moment. It is often questioned why Paulina give Leontes the baby. She is a woman after all and why would she betray her queen by putting the child at risk. In this production Sinead Cusack’s Paulina give Leontes the baby and he cradles the child looks at it and for a brief period it feels like Paulina has done exactly the right thing until Leontes places the child on the chair and then snaps back into his rage. Paulina is really believable in the production and the fact she is seen entering with cases makes her entrance so far into the events so plausible. She’s been away and has come back to find the Court in disarray.
Leontes shows real affection for his son as well, which makes the death of Mamillius so painful and shocks him into realising that he has got things so wrong. I think that Mendes may have taken something from the 1999 Doran production in placing Mamillius in the chair and doubling the Perdita and Mamillius roles.
Simon Russell Beale delivers his soliloquies at the front of the stage, the lights go down and there is music in the background to indicate the sinister aspects of the speeches. The soliloquies are not heard by anyone else on stage, so he can go back to speak to his son and the speeches, as in some productions, do not disturb the son. In the trial scene, Hermione starts to read her speech from a script that has been prepared for her, but as she finds her own words and speaks passionately in her self defence. The oracle as a quill pen writing on its own didn’t work at all, this is an unintentional comic moments in the ‘tragic’ part of the play.
It’s clearly a pantomine bear that enters to eat poor Antigonous (Dakin Matthews) and it is at this moment the tone of the production changes in tone. Richard Easton’s old shepherd become Time and move us on sixteen years, because when we returned from the interval we were clearly in a different world. In a recent interview for radio 4’s Front Row, Simon Russell Beale said that the firs part of the play was set in Britain and the second in America to deal with the company’s different accents. This worked extremely well and we were transported to a hoedown. Ethan Hawke hammed it up so much as Autolcycus. He was extremely funny. At one point he resembles Johnny Depp as put on his disguise in order to attend the sheep shearing feast. When Perdita comes back as a sixteen year old to the Sicilian court, both Leontes and Paulina look at her face as if they recognise her. in this court looking like your parents has been important so this has to be the most obvious sign that there will be a happy ending.
Reviews and Previews
The Stage review of The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic
Sam Mendes Interview
The Stage review of The Winter’s Tale at the Old Vic
Theatre preview: The Bridge Project, London S…
The New Straits Times Online…….
Telegraph- The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry orchard
Sam Mendes on the Bridge Project (BBC Interview)
The Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
Alexis Soloski: Beware of the bear – the dilemm…
WOS Review of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…
Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
Guardian review of Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
The Time review of The Winter’s Tale and Cherry Orchard
Article on The Winter’s Tale/The Cherry Orchard (The Times)
Official London – The Cherry Orchard
Official London – The Winter’s Tale
Simon Russell Beale on his love of books – Time…
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…

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