Get our free email newsletter with just one click

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.


We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Intelligent, inventive and moving production of Shakespeare’s savage and magical fairytale