[Exit, pursued by a bear.]
I was lucky enough to be given tickets (for my birthday from my parents) to see Branagh’s production of The Winter’s Tale in London. With Kenneth Branagh himself and Judi Dench among the company of actors, when I finally saw this production last week I was expecting good things!
The Winter’s Tale is not a play I knew much about, except it’s famous stage direction involving a bear and that it is notoriously difficult to perform. The plot turned out to be rather simple: a king, possessed with jealousy and suspicion, orders his wife to be tried for adultery. After she is reported dead he discovers her innocence, and filled with remorse and grief, he attempts to reconstruct his life and family. (Naturally though, Shakespeare also adds love, disguise, deception and surprisingly magic…)
The performances given by all the actors was great, but for me it is definitely Dench who stole the show. She has an ease with Shakespeare and the language to make it understandable – she doesn’t sound pompous and stiff like many other actors can. She also played her character brilliantly: witty, strong-willed but compassionate too.
However, I felt the production itself was lazy; the set and direction ideas lacked imagination. Shakespeare’s plays allow opportunity to experiment and create innovative pieces, but this production used very little set and was set in a jumbled unknown time period. The opening scene had pace and creativity, but I felt it also soon disappeared – perhaps this was meant to be presenting King Leontes’ decent into madness, but if it was this, it didn’t come across like that to me!
However, in all fairness The Winter’s Tale is certainly not Shakespeare’s best play, with neither plot nor captivating speech. And there is only so much you can do with a text…!
It’s strange though, that my reaction to this is so different to the critics, who have loved this production. But to me, it seemed like a good performance of The Winter’s Tale, but a mediocre piece of Shakespeare.