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