Olivier Theatre, London SE1
Opened 23 May, 2001

**** Grey Sicily meets colourful Bohemia

There's no proper Glastonbury Festival this year, but it's re-created at the National Theatre in Nicholas Hytner's excellent production.

Shakespearean clowns and rustics are the very devil to stage effectively these days: the choice is between faithful but dull, and wacky but pointless. In a stroke of brilliance, Hytner makes the sheep-shearing festival in the middle of Shakespeare's late romance into a full-blown Glasto, complete with crusty musicians and the rogue Autolycus (Phil Daniels) peddling "parcels of charge" and rapping the Bard's greatest hits. It sounds gratuitously contemporary, but it works a treat. The only downside is that it does not allow enough emphasis to be placed on the character of Perdita, the abandoned princes brought up as a shepherd's daughter; while everyone else praises her gentility, we never really get to see it.

Elsewhere, in the grey penthouse of the Sicilian court, Alex Jennings as the jealous king Leontes gives one of the finest performances of his career; he combines precision and naturalness to portray an insane rage which grows suddenly and yet still by perceptible gradations. Claire Skinner as his wife Hermione and Deborah Findlay as the plain-speaking Paulina rightly leave centre stage to Jennings' wonderful portrait first of folly then of remorse.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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