threestar" /> The Winter's Tale, The Courtyard, Hoxton, London<field name="starRating">threestar</field> - Reviews - Theatre & Dance - The Independent

The Winter's Tale, The Courtyard, Hoxton, Londonthreestar

3.00

A new twist in a familiar tale

Phil Willmott is a phenomenon a truth that unfortunately sounds too alliterative to be true. It would take forever to frogmarch you through his back catalogue as writer, director and producer. But his inventiveness and his eye for... I was going to say niche marketing, but that's precisely not the right word...

Indeed, how would one describe the quietly brilliant concept of taking over the Scoop, the accidental open-air amphitheatre next to the (underrated) GLC building by Tower Bridge, and turning it into alfresco theatre that is free for anyone who happens to be passing by for certain weeks in the summer and at Christmas? It's a primary insight and Willmott has not got the recognition (or the money) for it that he deserves.

Willmott's output is uneven, which is part of its great charm. He's not self-protective. You don't go to a Willmott show (whether he has written it, produced it or performed in it) secure in the knowledge of an absolutely good time. But Willmott-watchers know that there is always something to bring away from his pieces and treasure. Or something that suddenly turns from mud to gold in the memory I remember some obscure Orton pieces that he directed, not very well to my mind, at the Drill Hall that have stayed with me and fructified in my life more than I could have imagined.

Is this all throat-clearing, a way of leading up to saying that I don't like his current Christmas production of The Winter's Tale (the best of the Shakespeare late plays) currently playing in the shiny new main house of the Courtyard Theatre, which has relocated from King's Cross to the Grade II-listed former Hoxton Library building? Not a bit of it. I loved the spirit of this show, while also having hefty doubts about its central concept.

The accent on this Winter's Tale, which is so fresh, vivid and fun, is it seems to me an attempt to ease the audience more smoothly over the break of 16 years that is the odd figurative feature of this absolute masterpiece. In the play proper, we begin 16 years before the action in the later acts. Leontes develops a rampaging jealously against his wife and his best friend, who he suddenly intuits are having an affair. Then 16 years later when the issue of this union (whom Leontes had violently wanted to kill to still his beating no-brain) is a young woman, nascent in her Oedipally desirable state, the play re-emerges outside its dream in the kingdom where the best friend and the unacknowledged, still-existing daughter are both precariously extant.

Willmott's perspective on this is both deeply imaginative and (for my money) perhaps too imaginative by half. The cast is wonderfully fresh (Willmott is great at seeing potential in performers on the brink and on the ledge) and a great part of the joy of sinking into the production is just recognising how well cast (within its means) it is.

But there's a catch, in that I think that the overriding concept is a slight mistake. To draw an analogy: take the great line from the Sonnets, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day", and rearrange it as "To a summer's day shall I thee compare". In that, you have both what is intriguing and to my mind less than wholly fortunate about this Winter's Tale, which starts directly after the point of the 16-year leap and presents the past as a wedding story. It doesn't quite work and yet is much more interesting than many dreary productions that play it by the letter. That's Willmott for you, all over.

By Paul Taylor

To 27 January (0870 163 0717)

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea