Look no further for explanation of Théâtre de Complicité's status as one of the hottest tickets around. A simple set (trestle tables, drapes, stepladder, a double-sided closet), empathic use of an eclectic range of source music from Diana Ross to les voix bulgares, and a clutch of performances sometimes cheekily irreverent to the text and as often eerily inhabiting the words.
Leontes' jealousy is portrayed by Simon McBurney neither as a grand passion nor (until a positively Wagnerian trial scene) as a gothically driving obsession; even amid the mania which shatters his family and his court, Leontes never becomes alien to the audience. Kathryn Hunter gives an extraordinary clutch of performances as Paulina, anguished and outspoken defender of the wronged queen, as Mamillius, Leontes' son, and as an Old Shepherd (from Cork?) whose hospitality and banter are equally free-flowing – her very face and frame seem to change with each characterisation.
The pervasive darkness of the opening acts is dispelled by Bohemian scenes which create a rich broth of rural celebration, and the final statue episode comes as close as any production to embodying the magic which Leontes believes to be at work. The Complicité style of high theatricality is here employed to marvellous effect across an entire spectrum of emotion, of which the examples above barely scratch the surface. Rarely is theatre so wondrous.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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