Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Declan Donnellan
Reviewer: Harriet Brace
There is undeniable hype surrounding The Winter’s Tale
Despite its lesser known quality, comparatively speaking, among Shakespeare’s mammoth volume of work, not to mention its derogatory label of “problem play”, this Cheek by Jowl production has already completed an international tour – and the reviews were raving.
The anticipation for the show’s debut UK audience as they filed into the Citizens Theatre proved the show’s buzz had reached Bonnie Scotland, with ticket-holding pockets of people hustling to their seats on the dot of the 15-minute call. As the crowd swished off coats and stowed bags a shrouded, solitary figure silently waited onstage for the lights to dim – an unnerving suggestion of the quietly unhinged relationships about to unfold on stage.
The Winter’s Tale tells the story of King Leontes, whose misplaced jealousy and self-destructive suspicion of his wife’s infidelity, brings about tragic repercussions for his family – and changes the fate of those close to him forever.
Orlando James is unforgettable from the outset as the dangerously conflicted Leontes. There’s no lavish set loaded with metaphors to play off, designer Nick Ormerod’s stark set of Scandi-esque white sees to that. Yet Leontes’ subtle mania is apparent from the get-go, with polar shifts in allegiances and growing distrust conveyed through James’ wide-eyed outbursts and uncomfortable invasions of space. His later transformation to the penitent, broken king of latter years is almost spiritual.
Natalie Radmall-Quirke is similarly spectacular as steadfast Hermione, stone-faced in the wake of unprecedented abuse that not only threatens her honour but her life, while Eleanor McLoughlin is fiercely endearing as Perdita; intensely independent yet helplessly in love.
Every performance in Donnellan’s imagining of The Winter’s Tale is hyper-real. The social awkwardness and self-consciousness of real life have no place here; characters’ vitriol means faces truly – scarily – transform. Spit flies, lips curl and eyes taper, while limbs flail and bodies are held at the extremes of passion and distress.
Jane Gibson’s movement direction is inspired in this regard. As tempers and desires reach breaking point so the action becomes more dynamic, bordering on frantic at the height of Leontes’ chaos. The atmospheric affect is instant, with the slightest bang initiating gasps and hastily hidden jumps of shock from the enraptured audience.
The contemporary production goes all-out to be new, and it’s not all down to acclaimed performances from the clearly very talented cast. The show picks up on the quirky use of Shakespearian language that translates to the modern day, in genuinely unexpected, but genius, ways. From airport security to angry daytime TV and festival culture, the show’s light relief is comedy sketch gold in Elizabethan English.
What’s more, it is incredibly relevant. Invasion of personal space is inflicted upon the play’s female characters throughout, and in violent fashion, while so-minded audience members might be intrigued to count the number of times the girls are called by name compared to ‘wife’, ‘daughter’ or ‘mother’ – including by themselves. With the Age of Trump upon us and women the world over marching for their rights this formidable, unashamedly up-to-date production couldn’t be better timed.
If anything, the ‘hype’ has been underplayed. The Winter’s Tale has bite.
Runs until 28 January 2017 | Image: Johan Persson