The Winter's Tale, Roundhouse, London
Monday 03 January 2011
Now that we know that the Royal Shakespeare Company will present their Stratford-upon-Avon productions in the Roundhouse from 2012, we can start to get used to the occupation with this taster season.
David Farr's handsome revival of The Winter's Tale – much improved since the summer première – is an ideal story for this time of year. The political summit in Sicily veers off into disaster as Leontes throws a jealous fit and turns on his pregnant wife.
These scenes are superbly played by Greg Hicks as Leontes and Kelly Hunter as the wronged Hermione, with the RSC understudy system coming through strongly: the visiting royal, Polixenes, is taken (at the performance I attended) by this season's Romeo, Sam Troughton, and the domino effect elsewhere in the cast causes no great problem.
There's an air of Prussian formality to this section of the play – frock coats in a cold climate – with the little boy Mamillius (Alfie Jones) hiding under the dinner table in the great library where the dignitaries are entertained. "A sad tale's best for winter," he says, and boy do we get one.
The arraignment is almost too painful to watch, Hunter pleading hopelessly in her prison garments and Hicks writhing in physical distaste and righteousness in his chair. Then, thunderbolts: the rejection of the oracle's truth report, the boy's inexplicable death, the queen's "demise"; Hunter will be a remarkable living statue in the astonishing last act.
Jon Bausor's library stacks crash inwards, their contents littering the stage for the rest of the play. In Bohemia, the rustics are decked out in loose pages – and huge phalluses for their country dancing – while the ravenous bear of "Exit pursued by bear" fame comes on like a Gruffalo, literally a paper tiger, devouring Antigonus whole; you can't imagine there will be much left for the second shepherd (Gruffudd Glyn) to bury.
The sheep-shearing scenes are less cheerful than usual, and heavily cut, merely to avoid the difficulty they pose, tut-tut. Samantha Young's Perdita is no soppy "queen of curds and cream" but a feisty wood sprite, and Brian Doherty's Autolycus a proper tinker in his prison clothes; he's finally left out in the snow, no room at the inn for this snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.
RSC at the Roundhouse (www.roundhouse.org.uk) to 5 Feb
Grace Dent on TVtv
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 Nineteen-year-old student left gifts for parents before taking her own life
- 4 Deliberately urinating before sex can increase risk of urinary tract infections
- 5 Winston Churchill: From accusations of anti-Semitism to the blunt refusal that led to the deaths of millions
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
David Cameron says anyone criticising Eric Pickles' letter to Muslims 'really has a problem'