The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare.The Bell Shakespeare Company directed by Adam Cook at the Canberra Theatre. May 24 – 31, 1997. Starring John Bell, Deidre Rubenstein, Ron Haddrick, Heather Mitchell.
This is an excellent production, not to be missed - yet not quite as wonderful as it might be.
Maybe it's churlish to criticise a company of such standards, where every actor is so technically skilled. Clever artifice makes it hard for me to be sure of my grounds, but there seemed to be something missing in the first half, though all was redeemed in the second.
I was disappointed by the bear. In this production, lights and sound for "Exit, pursued by a bear" combined to create the right dramatic effect, but oddly the image of the bear was not clear enough for those who do not know the script well. Leontes wore a cloak of bear skin, later worn again by the shepherd's son after the truth about Perdita has been revealed. The symbolic linking was surely intended - so why was the the image of the bear not held so that we really knew it was a bear: the representation of Leontes' "shadow"?
I found a fatal flaw in the first encounter between Polixenes and Leontes. Polixenes, after a nine month stay, announces he will leave Leontes' court "to-morrow". Leontes, in Bell's version, has decided that something is going on between the pregnant Hermione and Polixenes: he opens with vicious jealousy. Why, when we are told in Scene I that Leontes and Polixenes have had such a strong affection since childhood? Scene II needs to begin with Polixenes genuinely not wanting to go, catching himself by surprise when he says "that's to-morrow"; while Leontes accepts his friend's necessary decision, and then is himself taken by surprise by Hermione's success in reversing the decision.
The first inkling of jealousy should appear only as Leontes reminds Hermione of her accepting his marriage proposal. Then we could see an honest Leontes trapped in the twists and turns of jealousy, triggered by a misinterpretation of a minor event. John Bell's Leontes was too evil from the start for me to believe in his redemption at the end.
You should see The Winter's Tale. The end is beautiful, and you may find me quite wrong about the first half.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
Return to Frank McKone'sHome Page