Royal National Theatre
THE WINTER’S TALE
by William Shakespeare
Olivier Theatre. In rep to 16 August 2001
Runs 3 hours 15 mins. One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000
Review Timothy Ramsden 2 August
Final clutch of performances for Nicholas Hytner’s brilliantly perceptive Shakespearean romance.
Leontes, King of Sicilia, has everything; luxury penthouse, beautiful wife, a son he dotes on, a second child on the way. His best friend Polixenes of Bohemia’s visiting: a photo of the two as children dominates one wall.
Then he blows it. Hytner’s first triumph is to chart the origins of Leontes’ jealousy in his personality; it’s a virus to which he’s susceptible. The interpretation brilliantly explains his obstinacy in the face of oracles and common sense.Alex Jennings charts Leontes’ decline in an unheeding rage matched by sartorial degeneration. By the trial he’s a living-dead wreck. It’s Claire Skinner’s condemned Hermione who is more alive, her truthfulness signalled in her determination to speak directly, not through the court microphone. When news comes of their son’s death, Hermione is horrified, Leontes merely confused.
Childhood pervades the production; without a sense of its vulnerability the adult is condemned to the prison of his personality. Leontes’ abandoned baby is found by John Normington’s Shepherd in the Bohemian mountains. It’s the first act of kindness in the play, but nothing to the explosion of peace and love at the Bohemian New Age Sheepshearing Festival held 16 years on. Even the faithful courtier Camillo (Joe Dixon) is nearly turned by a joint. Phil Daniels’ Autolycus, rogue and trader, turns up selling T-shirts and ballads on CD, before launching into a number with a Complete Works riff full of Shakespeare’s greatest bits.
We’re whisked from this hilarity to a conclusion that’s unusually tense. Hermione cannot easily throw off the past; for a long time it seems she is set in stone. When she eventually shows her humanity it’s not to greet her husband but her daughter (Melanie Clark Pullen). The final image of mother and daughter seated silently together is as much challenge as resolution.