The Winter's Tale

By Collins, Michael J. | Shakespeare Bulletin, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Winter's Tale


Collins, Michael J., Shakespeare Bulletin


The Winter's Tale

Presented by The Bridge Project, The Old Vie, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Neal Street Productions at The Old Vic, London, May 29-August 15, 2009. Directed by Sam Mendes. Sets by Anthony Ward. Costumes by Catherine Zuber. Lighting by Paul Pyant. Sound by Paul Arditti. Music by Mark Bennett. Music Direction by Dan Lipton. Choreography by Josh Prince. With Simon Russell Beale (Leontes), Michael Braun (Dion, Florizel), Morven Christie (Mamillius, Perdita), Sinead Cusack (Paulina), Richard Easton (Old Shepherd, Time), Rebecca Hall (Hermione), Josh Hamilton (Pollixenes), Ethan Hawke (Autolycus), Paul Jesson (Camillo), Aaron Krohn (Servant), Dakin Matthews (Antigonus, Shepherd), Mark Nelson (Lord, Mariner, Shepherd), Gary Powell (Cleomenes, Jailer, Bear, Shepherd,), Tobias Segal (Young Shepherd), Hannah Stokely (Emilia, Shepherdess), and others.

The Winter's Tale and The Cherry Orchard, both directed by Sam Mendes, were the initial productions of The Bridge Project, a three year collaboration among the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Old Vic Theatre in London, and Mendes's Neal Street Productions, created to cast prominent British and American actors together in classic plays.

The two productions opened at BAM in February 2009, subsequently traveled to Singapore, New Zealand, Spain, and Germany, and finally arrived in London at the end of May. While at least one critic (Kate Bassett in The Independent on Sunday) found some "engaging echoes" in the cross casting of the two plays (Simon Russell Beale and Rebecca Hall, for example, playing Leontes and Hermione as well as Lopakhin and Varya), the productions were essentially discrete, joined only by their shared setting in the early twentieth Century and some fines from Richard H that appeared on a screen extending across the middle of the stage as both plays began: "O call back yesterday, bid time return."

The stage for The Winter's Tale was initially lit in soft yellow light. Upstage, candles in hurricane globes rested on two large swings (simple planks suspended from the ceiling on thick ropes) while similar globes hung down on chains. (The swings and globes were drawn up during the chaos that followed Leontes's rejection of the oracle's message). The play began with Mamillius (played by the actress who would later play Perdita) lying downstage, telling his small teddy bear "a sad tale is best for winter." Then, as Hermione began to coax Polixenes to stay in Sicilia, the two reclined together on pillows at center stage: she rested her head on his shoulder and he put his arm around her. Their intimacy continued ("paddling palms" included) as the lights on them dimmed, and Leontes, standing down stage left in a spotlight, spoke his fears directly to the audience. It was unclear whether the staging represented what was actually taking place between Hermione and Pollixenes or only what Leontes imagined he saw.

Simon Russell Beale's Leontes seemed a deeply divided man. Just before Camillo entered in 1.2 ("What, Camillo there"), Leontes lovingly tucked Mamillius into a bed which then remained upstage right during the scene that followed. Later, when he shouted at Camillo "you lie, you lie," Mamillius woke up, and Leontes paused and walked up-stage to comfort him. When he entered at the start of 2.3, Leontes had bare feet, disheveled hair, and a blanket around his head, allowing the audience to witness his anguish. Mamillius was again on the stage during 2.3, now almost lifeless in a wheelchair, his head drooping to one side. When Paulina put the baby down in front of him, Leontes picked it up, held it for a while, and then laid it, with exaggerated gentleness, back down on the stage. At "the bastard brains with these my proper hands / Shall I dash out," the baby cried. Leontes picked it up again, rocked it until it was quiet, held it as he talked, and then finally put it very gently into the arms of Antigonus.

At the trail, Mamillius was once more on stage: the wheel chair was down right, and Leontes covered him with a blanket before the scene began.

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