Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Winter's Tale; All on Her Own/ Harlequinade

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Winter's Tale; All on Her Own/ Harlequinade

Article excerpt

The Winter's Tale; All On Her Own/ Harlequinade

Garrick Theatre, until 16 January 2016

Kenneth Branagh opens his West End tenancy with Shakespeare's inexplicably popular The Winter's Tale . We start in Sicily where Leontes and his queen Hermione are entertaining Polixenes, the king of Bohemia. The design is heavily Germanic. Crimson drapes shroud the grey marble columns. A massive fir tree, twinkling with candlelight, is rooted in an ornamental toboggan. Everyone swishes about in thick, elegant Victorian costumes. The sets, by Christopher Oram, aren't just lovely to look at, their detailed perfection is almost heartbreaking. And Neil Austin's lighting would have won gasps of admiration from David Lean.

The only fault is that it all seems overcontrived. An orchestral score intensifies the emotional colouring but it makes the play feel like a film. And would Hermione, nine months pregnant, really go figure-skating with Polixenes? The palace backs onto a frozen lake where the two athletes careen this way and that, arm in arm. They even execute a faultless U-turn in the wings. Then everything goes weird. Leontes succumbs to an inexplicable fit of paranoid jealousy. He imprisons Hermione and orders his steward to bump off Polixenes, thus destroying his dynasty and his reputation at a stroke. Branagh's range isn't really suited to a tragic monster like Leontes. At a normal conversational pitch he can act as well as anyone but at the extremes of emotion he borrows devices pioneered elsewhere. He does the Olivier bark -- 'out!' -- when shunning his newborn daughter. He does the Anthony Hopkins hand of shame -- eyes shielded by trembling fingers -- when exposed to the consequences of his murderous rage. He gives us the John Hurt bewildered tortoise routine when surrendering to deep remorse. And he responds to his son's death with the famous Brando howl: fists clenched, head tossed back, voice hurled into the gantry. These elaborate emulations are outclassed by the simplicity of Judi Dench, whose clear-headed Paulina dares to challenge the mad king. He threatens to immolate her. 'I care not,' she says, 'it is an heretic that makes the fire not she which burns in't.' At the end of this scene she nearly won an ovation, which would have disturbed the rhythm of the play and annoyed the rest of the cast (who, more annoyingly, would have felt obliged to congratulate her backstage while she expressed her surprise and embarrassment).

In the second half, we move to Bohemia for a long rustic love story which, as usual, is too chock-full of forced merriment to please the rational observer. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.