This was a lovely clear and very straight forward production with a focus on the text that brought Shakespeare’s words alive. It was without the set design frills (thrills) that the RSC production have adopted, and so stripped away some of the sense of a busy court. You have to do this with a small cast. However, this was used to great effect. Even though The Winter’s Tale deals with Kings and Queens, Headlong’s production is very domestic drawing attention to the intimacy of the situation and that this is a tragedy for both family and state. I think that Greg Hicks, playing Leontes in the current RSC production, is at the top of his game, but Vince Leigh in Headlong’s production did a great job with Leontes’ long complicated speeches. Unlike Simon Russell Beale’s portrayal of Leontes, there was no sense of where Leontes’ jealousy had come from.
At times I wasn’t clear where Sicilia and Bohemia where in this production, because there felt like there were lots of references to Greece in both countries. This isn’t really a problem, because I think Shakespeare intended his audience to see both as magical and distant worlds. The first half, set in Sicilia, gets darker and darker as the Queen is brought to trial before her husband. Her clothes are filthy becuase she has been in the prison and she is clearly exhausted after giving birth. As the tragedy has struck and when Leontes thinks both his wife and son is dead, the set goes black. And then suddenly there is a blue background and things lighten up for the sheep shearing scene. This production highlighted some of the parallels between both countries and parts of the play. The doubling up of Mamillius and Perdita worked really well. Both parts were played by Bryony Hannah and I really believed her portrayal of Mamillius was a young boy and that she is a beautiful sixteen year old ‘princess’ in the second half. I felt that here was a clear relationship between the trial scene and the statue scene. Hermione stands on the same overturned box and in both scenes is the becomes the focal point for the court. In the first the life is taken from her and in the second life is put back into her. John Hodgkinson was equally effective as both Antigonous and Autolycus and Golda Roshheuval played the stern Paulina wonderfully, but was also able to become the comic Shepherdess
I was delighted to see a large audience for this production. This production was part of the wonderful and energetic Takeover festival at York Theatre Royal. There’s so much good stuff to see each week.
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