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ARCHIVE PAGE FOR - The Winter's Tale (RSC - Barbican 1999)

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Play by Shakespeare. Directed by Gregory Doran.

Spanning sixteen years, Shakespeare's magical play tells of the constant dangers of love and jealousy and the healing, redemptive power of time.

Gregory Doran is an RSC Associate Director. Recent RSC work includes the enormously successful productions of Cyrano de Bergerac (Swan Theatre/West End), Shakespeare's rarely performed Henry VIII (Swan Theatre/Young Vic, transferring to New York and Washington in May) as well as The Merchant of Venice (currently playing in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until September). This production was seen at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon previewed 10 December, opened 6 January 1999, closed 4 March 1999

BARBICAN Theatre previewed 25 March, opened 12 April 1999, closed 6 May 1999

Extract from reviews from Stratford opening:

"Antony Sher was last in Stratford as the big-nosed romantic Cyrano de Bergerac. Now he's taken on the role of Leontes, a Sicilian king so insanely jealous that Sher can get into some serious Joe Pesci-style method acting. He's terrifying... As Leontes, Sher is far better than both John Nettles and Jeremy Irons, recent contenders in this barking role. He strikes just the right balance between madness and penitence as the play travels across 16 years... The poetic sufferings of Leontes are balanced by some lovely comedy from Ian Hughes as the tinker Autolycus. The world is finally put right and, in Greg Doran's emotionally generous production, this mighty tall story casts a magic spell. Guaranteed to banish winter glooms." The Express

"It has sometimes seemed as though the one thing that Antony Sher can dependably do upon a stage is absolutely dominate it. Richard Ill, Tamburlaine the Great, Cyrano de Bergerac, Arturo Ui: his CV does not exactly bulge with the shrinking violets of world drama. So when the RSC announced that he was to pull off a double in its forthcoming Winter's Tale, it just felt like the upping of an ante. He was scheduled to play the two most prominent male roles: Leontes, the Sicilian king who triggers the apparent tragedy through his irrational belief in his wife's infidelity, and Autolycus, the ballad-selling rogue and pickpocket who hogs the limelight when Leontes is offstage. I am happy to report that this wheeze has been totally abandoned. Bravura doubling-stunts are best left to tricksy farces such as The Comedy of Errors; The Winter's Tale's modulation between genres requires subtler handing. In the event, Sher has confined himself to Leontes, though "confined" seems scarely the appropriate word given the rich and complex characterisation he offers in Gregory Doran's Edwardian/ Romanov-style production. A portly, bearded, mad-eyed figure in ermine and full regalia, he enters a court that stands frozen like statues to the sound of the paranoid whisperings about to invade his mind. Better than any Leontes I have seen, he proceeds to show that the king's manic mistrust is not so much an outbreak of evil as a kind of massive mid-life crisis that is at once frightening, farcical and pathetic... The one big error is to make Leontes' young son, Mamillius, a pasty weakling in a wheelchair, and to have him performed by the actress (Emily Bruni) who goes on to play the lost and rediscovered daughter, Perdita. The little boy needs to be robust so that his pointless death comes as a harrowing shock, and he should not symbolically metamorphose into his sister, because his demise has to register as a tragedy time cannot redeem. That mistake apart, this is a Winter's Tale impressively told." Paul Taylor, The Independent

"Now sexual jealousy is all the rage and surely ranks as one of the seven deadly facts, or fantasies, threatening marriage, The Winter's Tale hits close to home. In Greg Doran's gripping production, Antony Sher's paranoid King Leontes not only behaves like a suitable case for psychotherapy three times a week, he also exudes the dangerous excitement of a very loose cannon. No wonder Doran took the astute decision to stage the play in what resembles a dream-palace, located on the road to the heart of darkness. Robert Jones's sinister set is reminiscent of de Chirico's surreal paintings... Doran's production may succumb to odd streaks of expensive camp and vulgarity, of which the oracle's message delivered by Ruritarian soldiers and a glittering Patriarch in a false beard is the worst. But it still stylishly communicates a sense of nightmare turbulence ruining a royal marriage and court decorum, with Jones's set eerily changing shape and form. Alexandra Gilbreath's Hermione comes to look so racked by grief that it's no wonder Estelle Kohler, who plays Paulina as a brisk Edwardian governess, pummels the king to the ground with her outraged fists. The fourth act, when Time works its magic amidst merry-making in summery Bohemia seems boisterously overextended. Yet Ian Hughes's delightful Autolycus distracts with his thieving tricks, while Emily Bruni's seductive Miranda falls for Ryan McCluskey's promising Prince. The scene, 16 years on at Leontes's court, with the king sits blankly on the floor, is more shocking in its denuded bleakness, after such jollifications. When Hermione returns from the dead, and nature triumphs over art, Sher seems oddly chilled. But the dramatic impact of the reconciliation is joyous." Nicholas de Jongh, The London Evening Standard

"The most newsworthy feature of the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of The Winter's Tale is that the star actor Antony Sher plays the jealous tyrant Leontes. Originally he was due to play both that role and the clown/knave Autolycus, a rare double-act. In the event, however, Sher proves the largest of the production's three disappointments. The best news about this staging proves to be its least newsworthy feature: namely, that Gregory Doran, directing, gives us an honest, serious, and unradical account of the play, in which the RSC delivers excellent ensemble playing, amid which two of the three female roles are played with great distinction. Doran and his designer, Robert Jones, set the play somewhere before and after the first world war. Although this casts no particular illumination - Shakespeare seems to have had some ancient-to-medieval era in mind - most of the cast make its every detail become organic. The heavy bustles worn by Leontes's wife Hermione and her ladies, an elaborate stole she employs, a 78rpm gramophone: these and other un-Shakespearian properties become part of the fibre of the play because they are so naturally and expressively handled here. The Bohemian idyll in the second half is a perfect contrast to the previous, formal court scenes in Sicilia; and the idyll would be utterly engaging were it not for three things. One: as so often with the RSC today, accents are all over the place. The Old Shepherd talks Irish. His son talks Mummerset. Two: Perdita is played as a coarse hoyden by Emily Bruni, so that it is impossible to believe those characters who see in her the grace of royal bloodlines. Three: Autolycus, as usual in recent British productions, is played without charm by Ian Hughes (in a Welsh accent). Nonetheless, this whole episode has vitality and colour, and the young actors cast as Florizel (Ryan McCluskey) and the Young Shepherd (Christopher Brand) bring charm and sweetness to it. At the Sicilian court, we encounter the two finest performances of the production: Alexandra Gilbreath as Hermione and Estelle Kohler as Paulina. The keenness of Gilbreath's attention to other characters, the radiance of her presence, the spontaneity and intelligence with which she utters every word: these light up the role and the play. If only she learnt how to breathe deeply and to enrich her voice with a greater security of lung power and proper control of inflection, she could become a 10 times greater - or rather 10 times less limited - actress. And Kohler catches at once, without any hint of exaggeration, the vehement moral urgency which distinguishes the role of Paulina. With both of these actresses, we travel real journeys of the spirit: with Hermione/Gilbreath, a journey of suffering innocence and of endurance; with Kohler, a journey of sympathy and of time's depredations. Sher, however, gives (as usual) a performance that is all impressive surface without depth, and we travel nowhere with him. Even though this is one of his most deliberately restrained performances, with whole sections delivered between piano and pianissimo, his acting remains of the flashy kind beloved of all too many British critics and spectators, and here he delivers certain stunts that are both characteristic and irritating: the big apoplectic fall backwards (you can see him preparing for it) is merely the most obvious. When Hermione and Polixenes handle her stole, they deepen our understanding of their characters; but when this Leontes smokes, or manipulates a handkerchief, he merely draws attention to his acting technique. To make matters worse, he and Autolycus are the only characters who are audibly amplified and are persistently trailed by two follow-spotlights. When Hermione/Gilbreath says: "My life stands in the level of your dreams", she lights up Shakespeare anew; when Leontes/Sher replies "Your actions are my dreams", (stressing unhelpfully the nouns rather than the verb), he delivers a display of his vocal artfulness. This Winter's Tale shines best when its star actor is not involved." Alistair Macaulay, The Financial Times

"...It is not a play one wants to see betrayed by directorial self-indulgence, and the good news is that the RSC's fortunes continue to revive with Greg Doran's often bravura production on the Stratford main stage. I have sometimes been more moved by The Winter's Tale, but I have never been more gripped by the narrative, or more thrilled by the account of destructive jealousy in the first three acts. Much of the production's success - and also, perhaps, its final failure totally to pierce the heart - can be attributed to the presence of Antony Sher as Leontes. He is the most excitingly charismatic of actors, but the downside is that he never quite lets you forget that you are watching a brilliant show. Nevertheless it is a treat to watch the stage set ablaze with a real star-turn... The emotional pressure of the first half is almost unbearable, but Doran also reveals a delightful lightness of touch with the stylish transformation to Bohemia. Here, the mood suddenly relaxes at the sheep-shearing ceremony, beautifully staged with a life-affirming mixture of sunshine, comedy, great bales of fleece and music. Emily Bruni is a delicious Perdita (but will someone please teach her to speak Shakespeare?), while Ian Hughes's Autolycus comes across like a close relation of Lionel Bart's Fagin. The final act, in which drama seems to make potent contact with religion, isn't quite as spine-tingling as usual, largely because Sher, despite the outward trappings of repentence, isn't a sufficiently inward actor to convey Leontes's spiritual journey. The reconciliations are still powerfully affecting, though, and the whole production has a sweeping confidence that bodes well for the RSC's future." Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

 
 
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