Theater Reviews

Patience to Make Tyranny Tremble – The Winter’s Tale at BAM

Adhaar Noor Desai (Bard College)

Notes from the editor:

Watch the currently live-streamed April 19th performance of The Winter’s Tale at the Barbican Centre in London. Available until Sunday, May 7.

Dr. Desai’s full review of the production that premiered in the US at the 2016 Next Wave Festival while appear in the Spring 2017 issue of The Shakespeare Newsletter

Orlando James as Leontes and Natalie Radmall-Quirke as Hermione. Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenfield

Last December’s Cheek by Jowl production of The Winter’s Tale at BAM directed by Declan Donnellan, revived this spring and live-streamed until May 7th, embraced the play’s notoriously challenging tragi-comic design. By the end of it, I almost felt like I’d seen two different pieces of theater distinguished by the intermission’s sixteen-year “gap of time.” This mentality took root in thoughtful set design and lighting (by Nick Ormerod and Judith Greenwood, respectively), which efficiently managed sweeping changes to tone and atmosphere. The opening half took place almost entirely in the sparse, tense environs of Leontes’s Sicilia. Upstage, a large, rectangular wooden crate sat like a monolith; downstage, a single narrow bench became the site of most of the domestic-made-political drama. After the intermission, these same stage properties split and transformed to represent Bohemia as a reality show set in a pink-tinged middle-class house party. While the tonal shift registered as perhaps too stark, the schism was suggestive and, on balance, more compelling than distracting. What was harder to judge, especially since I saw this performance exactly one month after the presidential election, was whether the transformation enabled by the second half’s comic plot had salved the wounds of the first half. Could a comic resolution that sprang up via individual relationships convincingly overcome the tragic divisiveness instituted by an aggressive tyrant? “A sad tale’s best for winter,” as the heartbreakingly portrayed Mamillius (a confident, emotive young Tom Cawte) told his mother early in the play—especially this winter.



Categories: Theater Reviews

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