The Winter’s Tale, at the Old Vic, June 2009

the bridge project

This delightful Shakespeare play is being produced along with Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard as part of The Bridge Project using a mix of British and American actors.

It was given an excellent production by Sam Mendes. It is about the destructive suspicions of King Leontes who accuses his heavily pregnant wife, Hermione of adultery with King Polixenes, a visitor for the past nine months. A courtier, Camillo is ordered to poison Polixenes, but believing in the queen’s innocence he warns him to leave, and they flee together. The baby daughter is then abandoned in the wild, where she is found and brought up by a shepherd, and given the name Perdita. Sixteen years later, Polixenes’s son, disguised as a shepherd, meets her and they fall in love. When Polixenes rages against his son’s match, the couple flee to Leontes’s court, followed by the shepherd bringing tokens of Perdita’s true identity, directed by an engaging rogue named Autolycus. Leontes already knows of his wife’s innocence from the Oracle at Delphi, and a statue of her has recently been completed at the house of Paulina, the widow of the courtier who originally took the baby girl into the wild and was himself eaten by a bear. Polixenes and Camillo arrive, and after matters relating to Perdita are settled, Paulina shows the assembled company a great wonder. The new statue of Hermione comes to life, after which Paulina and Camillo, who had both believed in her innocence, become engaged, and everyone celebrates the miracle.

The role of Leontes was brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale, with Rebecca Hall elegantly portraying his wife. Paul Jesson was a convincing Camillo, and Sinead Cusack a wonderfully sympathetic Paulina. Polixenes, Perdita, and Polixenes’s son were all well portrayed by Josh Hamilton, Morven Christie, and Michael Brown, and the shepherd was delightfully played by Richard Easton. Autolychus was superbly performed by Ethan Hawke, and his singing added just the right colour.

The entire production was a delight, and the simple sets by Anthony Ward and modern costumes by Catherine Zuber allowed the actors to dominate the stage, which they did very well, aided by Paul Pyant’s lighting design that used spots and darkness to very good effect. This is part of the Bridge project, with a mixed cast of American and British actors, each using their own accents, and the performance came over very naturally. An excellent Winter’s Tale for the summer months.

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