Sunday, July 3

The Winter’s Tale – RSC Online

According to the Washington Post President Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims during his four years in office. At the time of writing this review the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of acting dishonestly in a number of different scandals.

Shakespeare knew that those in charge are not always honest and truthful. In this play he examines the consequences when an all-powerful man fails to act with honour. The shadow of Henry VIII and his treatment of Elizabeth I’s mother Anne Boleyn hangs over the drama.

The play is all about honesty, integrity, honour and trust.  It is at base a moral fable where purity is rewarded and sin is punished.

King Leontes, a jealous tyrant believes his pregnant wife Hermione is having an affair with his boyhood friend, the king of Bohemia, Polixenes.

The vengeful king wants his rival and his queen to die. His advisors try to reason with him but he will not listen to them. The power of a king will have his way.

Joseph Kloska as Leontes is wonderfully frantic in these scenes. There is a madness, an almost comic, over the top, intensity about the performance. His jealousy is a form of insanity. The king has no proof of her guilt, yet he is an all-powerful leader, so what he says must be true, even if it is not.

This production sets the play between 1953 and 1969. With no audience present this allowed the filming of the action to use in period filming techniques. So they partly film the trial of Hermione as if it was on fifties TV, poorly lit and in black and white. Later on, they film in sixties colour.

The fact there were not people watching was an issue. For instance, I felt sorry for the energetic, charismatic and funny Anne Odeke as the comic tinker Autolycus. She really needed the laughs she would have got from an audience to make her performance truly memorable.

It is a strange play in many ways because the first half is dramatic and then the second half is comic before the dramatic conclusion. Critics have called it a “problem play” because it was structured in this way.

A really interesting aspect of this production was the use of deaf actors. Particularly good was William Grint as the young shepherd, whose naïve charm was well expressed. The casting of disabled actors for non-disabled roles is perhaps the next taboo theatre companies have to tackle and it is heartening to see the RSC cast William and Bea Webster in this play.

Director Erica Whyman kept the staging as simple as possible. It must have been so challenging to plan and rehearse a play in the middle of a pandemic. There were plenty of imaginative touches used to bring the play to life including some fun sixties style songs and one odd point where the fourth wall was broken down with a fact about Shakespeare.

Amanda Hadingue as Paulina gave the most powerful performance. It was, appropriately, an intense and honest portrayal of a character who personifies the strong, virtuous, heart of the play.

It is well worth a watch and it can be found on iPlayer and is being streamed by the RSC until the 8th May.

Reviewer: Adam Williams

Reviewed: 26th April 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★