The Winter's Tale and As You Like It (RSC 7th, 8th and 9th May 2009)

On the cover of the programme for current RSC production of The Winter’s Tale , Greg Hicks (Leontes) stands in the middle of a winter landscape and glances down at an ‘old master’ painting depicting an idyllic classical landscape. The programme image suggests the pastoral world as an alternative to the world that Leontes inhabits. It also suggests an escape from the monochrome world where the road goes nowhere. The contrast between the masculine dominated sphere of the court is also contrasted in As You Like It with the exterior world of the Forest of Arden. In both plays this alternative world is inhabited by those that play god and goddesses, shepherds and shepherdesses, lovers and the loved – the winter world by those who play the brutal ruler. Yet, the alternative is still full of jealousies, thieves, wild animals, the threat of betrayal and a need to survive. In considering these two plays together it is possible to make meanings out of the viewing both productions now being performed at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford upon Avon.

I’m sure that when the RSC have decided to put As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale into the schedules together, they did so because there are clear parallels between of the themes and ideas in both plays.

The plays deal with a transition from court into a pastoral world. It is a movement from the interior to the exterior. The male rulers’ tirades destroy all around him. The family is split apart and the domestic work is transformed into a dystopia. Fathers and daughters are separated. Brothers are set against brothers with echoes of the ‘primal eldest’ curse also explored in Hamlet, but in these two plays there is forgiveness and reconciliation. It is forgiveness and reconciliation which makes these two plays and these productions of them so powerful.

It would make sense, with an ensemble company working together for two years, to explore some of the links between the two plays in the two productions. However, this is not necessarily the case, because the ensemble has been split into two companies to work on the two plays and have different directors – Michael Boyd for As You Like It and David Farr for The Winter’s Tale. So while in some cases the audience, who are often likely to visit both, may make their own links between the two productions there are differences in creative decisions and approaches as well.

Both sets give the impression of timeless worlds that could be anywhere (like the set of Twelfth Night in the Theatre Royal, York production see earlier blog entry). The sets represent the disintegration of society and at points reflect the state of characters’ minds. As the plays progress the structures they inhabit start to fall apart. The Winter’s Tale opens in the library, and the audience is reminded of learning and wisdom, which should be about being rationale and common sense. The play starts with a formal dinner party, but as the relationships between the characters break down the set falls apart as the play progresses. There is a surprise which Miching Malicho won’t spoil in this blog. There is a similar effect as the set transforms through As You Like it, and the Court of Duke Frederick (Sandy Neilson) feels clinical and cold. When the audience enter the Courtyard Theatre they are faced with a tiled backdrop and stage floor The cast entering doing a formal dance in stiff Elizabethan costumes. As As You Like It progresses the set opens up as the characters open up their minds and traps in the floor and the tiles in the back of the set open. In The Winter’s Tale the traps and flies are used to great effect particularly in the second half.

Corin (Geoffrey Freshwater) skinning his rabbit on stage as the audience return from the interval break is a reminder of the violence and brutality that is present in the two plays. Hermione (Kelly Hunter) stands with her dress stained by the blood of birth as she is accused by husband in the trial scene. Servants enter Duke Frederick’s court with blood on their faces, clearly beaten for hiding the departure e of Celia and Rosalind. The Duke keeps a wrestler so he can inflict pain on others and the fight between Charles (David Carr) and Orlando (JonJo O’Neill) is a savage affair.

The response of characters to this abuse is not always passive. Herminoe is angry as she defends herself in her trial and Paulina (Noma Dumezweni) shows fury at the way the queen has been treated. There is so much humanity in the plays to counteract the turbulence. In As You Like It, Orlando will look after the old servant Adam (Peter Shorey) at all costs, protecting him like a child. He enters the stage carrying him just as Jacques finishes the ‘Seven ages of Man’ speech becoming a visual reminder of age. In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione is really content in her pregnancy and she delights in her young son as he tells his ‘sad tale for winter’. There is a strong bond between Rosalind (Katy Stephens) and Celia (Mariah Gale). Rosalind transforms herself into a boy by stripping off the formality represented by the black dress and letting her hair down. The thinly drawn moustache seems to emphasise her femininity and reminds us that she is just playing a man and is a woman. She is the one that leads in the woods, and draws Celia around in the handcart supporting her cousin. Touchstone maakes us laugh as he takes Celia’s place in the cart to be dragged off stage via the traverse by an unknowing Rosalind.

After all, As You Like It is a comedy and though a tragedy in the first part The Winter’s Tale becomes a comedy in the second part. Orlando has wooed Rosalind with the verses strewn across the audience and on the roads outside the theatre. The audience have been invited to write more as part of a RSC competition. They are invited into the marriage feast at the end of As You Like It as ribbons are presented to audience members. The production has moved through time and we are now up to date. In The Winter’s Tale the marriage of Perdita and Florizel bring young love back to the decaying court of Sicilia.

Hermione’s statue is ashen white bathed in light. On her face are the lines of time and as she comes back to life it feels as if she thaws and melts into her human form. it is a very moving scene watched by the audience through the eyes of the mesmerized courtiers and royal family on stage.

Both RSC productions take the audience through space and time. As time passes and the performances develop, the structure of the theatre will change on the move to Newcastle in the autumn, so I would be interested to see how these two productions will mature and transform as the ensemble get to know each other better and maybe utilise the connections between the two plays even further.

 

Production Details

 

 
Production Photographs
 
As You Like It (On theRSC’s Facebook Site)
The Winter’s Tale (On the RSC’s Facebook Site)
 
Reviews and Previews
As You Like It
Katy Stephens On … Life at the RSC Post-Histori…
The Stage / News / Shakespeare’s Globe announce…
Theatre review: As You Like It / Curve, Leicest…
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
As You Like It
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
Review: As You Like It
The Stage / News / Shakespeare’s Globe announce…
As You Like It at Curve, Leicester – Times Online
As You Like It at Courtyard, Stratford – Times …
As You Like It at Courtyard, Stratford – Times …
As You Like It: All the world’s a politically c…
Katy Stephens On … Life at the RSC Post-Histori…
Company gets lost in As You Like It Theatre …
Theatre preview of 2009 – Telegraph
Young cast lead Young Hearts season at Globe …
FT.com / Arts / Theatre & Dance – As You Like I…
The Stage / Reviews / As You Like It
As You Like It at the Courtyard, Stratford-upon…
As You Like It, review – Telegraph
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
Royal Shakespeare Company : Press releases
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
As You Like It, Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon …
As You Like It at The Curve, Leicester – Times …
As you like wit! Mail Online
Katy Stephens On … Life at the RSC Post-Histori…
The Stage / Shenton’s View / Tweeting and quote…
Burnt by the Sun, NT Lyttelton, London
Danci…

The Stage / Reviews / As You Like It
Birmingham Post – Life & Leisure – Birmingham C…
Young cast lead Young Hearts season at Globe …
There’s much to like about As You Like It Met…
FT.com / Arts / Theatre & Dance – As You Like I…
The Leamington Observer – Lot to like from Step…
The Winter’s Tale
Katy Stephens On … Life at the RSC Post-Histori…
The Stage / News / Shakespeare’s Globe announce…
Theatre review: As You Like It / Curve, Leicest…
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
As You Like It
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
Review: As You Like It
The Stage / News / Shakespeare’s Globe announce…
As You Like It at Curve, Leicester – Times Online
As You Like It at Courtyard, Stratford – Times …
As You Like It at Courtyard, Stratford – Times …
As You Like It: All the world’s a politically c…
Katy Stephens On … Life at the RSC Post-Histori…
Company gets lost in As You Like It Theatre …
Theatre preview of 2009 – Telegraph
Young cast lead Young Hearts season at Globe …
FT.com / Arts / Theatre & Dance – As You Like I…
The Stage / Reviews / As You Like It
As You Like It at the Courtyard, Stratford-upon…
As You Like It, review – Telegraph
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
Royal Shakespeare Company : Press releases
As You Like It: Royal Shakespeare Company, Cour…
As You Like It, Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon …
As You Like It at The Curve, Leicester – Times …
As you like wit! Mail Online
Katy Stephens On … Life at the RSC Post-Histori…
The Stage / Shenton’s View / Tweeting and quote…
Burnt by the Sun, NT Lyttelton, London
Danci…

The Stage / Reviews / As You Like It
Birmingham Post – Life & Leisure – Birmingham C…
Young cast lead Young Hearts season at Globe …
There’s much to like about As You Like It Met…
FT.com / Arts / Theatre & Dance – As You Like I…
The Leamington Observer – Lot to like from Step…
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