April 1st, 2009

The Winter's Tale

We saw The Winter's Tale at Stratford last night. The first night of the first production of the new RSC company's first season. One- one- one.

It's my favourite play. It has been ever since I exited pursued by a bear in a school production forty years ago. I'd never seen it played by professionals before.

It's a tricky play. Bears, living statues, a fairy-tale narrative with real- too real- emotions in it. A harrowing tragedy that switches to airy pastoral on its way to the reconcilation scene to end all reconciliation scenes.  This production didn't get everything right.  Why, for instance, did Antigonus run towards the motionless bear? And why is the RSC so afraid of lyricism these days? The way Perdita was allowed to toss away her daffodils and swallows was criminal. A little less naturalism, a little more Gielgud would have been nice. But how do you play pastoral romance, when the genre has been dead for centuries? Here the mix was twenty-five percent hootenanny, twenty-five percent Larkrise to Candleford and fifty percent anything goes. It wasn't magical, it wasn't Arcadian, but there were some good laughs. The Sicilian scenes worked better- with Greg Hicks as a notably quiet Leontes (a good man, knocked askew by sudden madness, but convinced- against the world- of his own continuing decency)- and Kelly Hunter outstanding as Hermione (boy, can she stand still!) My scalp was prickling all through the first three acts- and the statue scene was as genre-transending and stilly and altogether wonderful as I was willing it to be. The greatest coup de theatre in the canon? I think so.