Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
  Opened 9 April, 2009

Michael Boyd continues to erase the mark left on the Royal Shakespeare Company by his predecessor Adrian Noble. The latest development is a reversion from Noble’s shorter-term contracts to a more sustained ensemble ethos, whose first manifestation is unveiled in David Farr’s debut as associate director in Stratford.
The pathologically jealous King Leontes is one of those roles Greg Hicks can most discomfitingly inhabit. His hooded-eyed basilisk glare (except that it is his own face that is stone) speaks as eloquently as his soliloquy when he watches his wife Hermione supposedly flirting with his best friend Polixenes of Bohemia. (Unusually, Kelly Hunter and Darrell D’Silva here do behave in such a way as to give at least a tiny patch of ground for Leontes’ mania.) He takes a gangrenous relish in words such as “bed-swerver”, with mists of saliva aerosoling out on his plosives. But, whatever his character, Hicks as an actor is deliberate. As I watched Leontes receive the Delphic oracle’s declaration that Hermione is chaste, I recalled the claim that if Talleyrand had been kicked in the backside, not a muscle would move in his face until he had decided how to react.
Jon Bausor’s huge bookcases symbolising the kingdom of Sicilia collapse for the move to the wild seacoast of Bohemia. Making the legendary bear (as in “Exit pursued by…”) a huge puppet composed of torn pages is an arresting visual move, but too much of the rest of the Bohemian design seems led by concept rather than justification. Why are the orchard trees also clad in pages, as if Orlando from As You Like It had taken a wrong turn out of Arden? Festooning the huckster Autolycus in ballad-sheets works, but what are those priapic mummers doing, looking like paper versions of Cousin Itt from the Addams Family (with some quite prominent “it”s between their legs)?
As Perdita, the lost babe grown into a natural princess, Samantha Young has the requisite freshness but not, as yet, the acoustic measure of the Courtyard space. But when events return to Sicilia for the climax, the magic returns also. Hermione may be restored to Leontes in the form of a supposed statue, but Hicks’ Leontes now looks like a time-worn granite image of himself. Noma Dumezweni’s Paulina, a passionate and articulate antagonist in the opening acts, has found a solidarity in sorrow over the passing years. And did Shakespeare ever write a line of more profound wonder than her invocation to him, “It is required you do awake your faith”?

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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