First things first. Quite what Dame Judi Dench’s character, Paulina, in The Winter’s Tale is there for, other than to be an old sage and general tormentor of King Leontes (Sir Kenneth Branagh), is not entirely clear. If the King is the King, and Paulina is being annoying and irritating, then why does he not tell his subject where to go? We do know she is nanny to Mamillius (Pierre Atri or Rudi Goodman, I couldn’t tell which child actor), the young Prince of Sicily, and perhaps she was nanny to Leontes too, but this latter point is not (to the best of my knowledge) confirmed either way.
I also don’t know exactly why I nearly fell asleep in the first half. My fellow theatregoer found herself struggling too, and said it was because of the long speeches. Branagh seems to like playing kings subtly – an unusually quiet Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival in 2013 comes to mind – and thus, sadly, fails to convince as a monarch genuinely hacked off and ballistic in his rage at his wife Hermione (Miranda Raison) and the visiting King of Bohemia, Polixenes (Hadley Fraser, who proves as adept in a Shakespeare play, perhaps even more so, than he does in a Cameron Mackintosh-produced musical).
Still, it took Dench to fully restore me from my slumber (I won’t even try to hurl sufficient superlatives at her usual professional standards), and ‘noble’ Camillo (a very convincing John Shrapnel) held my attention too. The set is more elaborate than a Shakespeare play really needs it to be, but in keeping with the time and place. And why not make a royal residence look like one? They’ve the budget for it, after all.
Autolycus (John Dagleish) lifts the spirits of both the citizens of Bohemia and the West End audience; off the back of his success in Sunny Afternoon, Dagleish is once more armed with a guitar and gets to sing some of his lines. The jump of sixteen years in the interval is well-conceived, thanks to some impressive wigs and fake beards. Tom Bateman’s Florizel and Jessie Buckley’s Perdita had palpable chemistry between them, which made an affirmation by King Leontes of their love all the more touching.
It was difficult to muster very much sympathy for anyone on stage by the end, except perhaps the aforementioned young couple, plus Mamillius. The latter doesn’t live to see a Hollywood ending that was written long before there even was a Hollywood. There’s a surprising lack of ‘Oh, I am slain’ pronouncements in this particular Shakespeare play, with the King in Act One Scene One being the exact same King at the end of the final scene of Act Five. Not that I enjoy seeing onstage stabbings – quite the opposite: The Winter’s Tale is actually quite refreshing in this regard.
The curtain call got a standing ovation, but I have to admit I only joined in because I was rather stiff and uncomfortable after the performance seemed a lot longer than its actual three hours. I can’t, however, fault its faithfulness to the original text, though it says something when I am impressed more by Miranda Raison’s Hermione standing a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y s-t-i-l-l for so long in the final scene than I was by any of the characters spouting lines around her.
PS There is a bear. To say more would be revealing too much, even by my liberal standards.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Winter’s Tale
by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Cast includes PIERRE ATRI, JAYGANN AYEH, TOM BATEMAN, KENNETH BRANAGH, JESSIE BUCKLEY, VERA CHOK, JACK COLGRAVE HIRST, JOHN DAGLEISH, JUDI DENCH, HADLEY FRASER, ADAM GARCIA, RUDI GOODMAN, MATTHEW HAWKSLEY, TAYLOR JAMES, PIP JORDAN, ANSU KABIA, STUART NEAL, MICHAEL PENNINGTON, ZOË RAINEY, MIRANDA RAISON, MICHAEL ROUSE, JOHN SHRAPNEL, KATHRYN WILDER and JIMMY YUILL
17 0CTOBER 2015 – 16 JANUARY 2016
Shakespeareʼs timeless tragicomedy of obsession and redemption is reimagined in a new production co-directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh, following their triumphant staging of Macbeth in Manchester and Manhattan. Judi Dench will play Paulina, Kenneth Branagh will play Leontes.
2 Charing Cross Road,
London, WC2H 0HH
Booking Until: 16th January 2016
Most performances are sold out.
Please telephone for availability. 020 7492 1602