The Winter’s Tale review at Barbican Silk Street Theatre, London – ’emotional clarity’

Orlando James and Natalie Radmall-Quirke in The Winter's Tale at the Barbican Silk Street Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson
Orlando James and Natalie Radmall-Quirke in The Winter's Tale at the Barbican Silk Street Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson

Cheek by Jowl’s production of The Winter’s Tale pairs irreverence and inventiveness with emotional clarity and power.

Orlando James’ Leontes is a very modern monarch in his blue jeans, but he’s a creature of extremes. He latches on to the idea that his pregnant wife, Hermione, has betrayed him with his best friend, and is carrying a bastard, and won’t let it drop. Young Mamillius also has spectacularly volcanic tantrums. Like father, like son.

Declan Donnellan – revisiting the play for a global tour, 20 years after the company’s famed Maly Drama Theatre production – brings a typical intelligence to bear on the play. The cruelty of Hermione’s public trial is intensified by the use video, while the aggression of Leontes towards her is appalling, his madness unsettling and upsetting.

The Bohemia scenes, in marked contrast, are full of daftness and uproar. The text gets entertainingly shredded as the tangle of subplots is turned into a Jeremy Kyle-style talk show.

There’s a line-dancing sequence and a hilarious scene in which the Old Shepherd’s voyage to Sicilia is beset by airport pettiness (“Did you pack your fardel yourself.”) Autolycus is still annoying, but that’s in part Shakespeare’s fault, and Ryan Donaldson compensates with charisma and a lovely singing voice.

Nick Ormerod’s set, a white clapboard box with panels that open up, proves endlessly versatile and the performances are all gripping, with James a particularly intense Leontes and Joy Richardson a grounded Paulina.

The final tableau, of redemption and resurrection, is strikingly candle-lit and truly moving, but it’s the early scenes that devastate.

 

Verdict
Intelligent, inventive and moving production of Shakespeare’s savage and magical fairytale
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