The problem with not booking up these things months in advance is you end up with a cricked neck from sitting in the front row. However, it means I didn’t have any tall big headed people in front of me to hinder my view of this odd production.
I guess I should have known it would have the slightly soft focus of a typical Kenneth Branagh production- there has always been something a little too clean living and wholesome about his style for me to really connect with his acting- it feels somewhat dated- as if he should have been around in Olivier and Gielgud’s day… I never feel there is a true raw nervous tension that I crave in performances- always a bit too much “acting” that stops me believing the performance and I are right on the edge.
The Victoriana style opening, the Christmas tree, rich red velvets and wallpapers, the sentimental home movies, all felt a little forced. But Judi Dench as Paulina, from the beginning, transformed the scenes she was in- her strong wilful non conforming character gave a feminist edge to what has always seemed to me to be a very misogynistic play. There are so many put downs of women, not just the story line itself- that a wife does what her husband wants and pleads for his friend to stay, only to be accused of having a relationship with him, and that whatever she says, she cannot prove her innocence- but so many little snubs and asides that make my hackles rise every time I read/hear them.
Even Paulina has a good line in self deprecation which on a number of occasions seem as if they are no longer jokes. One can imagine the Elizabethan audience having a good snigger- (and obviously forgetting that their great queen is a woman…) but as a 21st century viewer it can feel very uncomfortable.
One way of combating this is to imply that it is not just jealousy of Hermione and Polixenes’ close relationship- Leontes is portrayed as over demonstrative with his male friends and courtiers. Is there more to his insane jealousy of Polixenes than meets the eye? It is as if his childhood crushes have remained with him and that his very close bond with Polixenes cannot cope with having to share his friendship with other people- including Leontes’ and Polixenes’ wives- in fact it has always seemed that the male characters in this play are selfish, infantile and shallow, compared the the women who are strong despite being treated so appallingly.
The pastoral scenes were so well choreographed, the dancing really lively, but all a little embarrassing at the same time. (as they often are- it’s hard to portray ordinary people in Shakespeare, without making them look stupid and ignorant- which of course they often are.. Obviously humans are designed to laugh at others “beneath” them- which Monty Python never failed to point out!)) Why the need to strip off? Why the ridiculous “country” accents- some of which seemed to come in and out of focus?
Sicilia 16 years later- frosty and cold (but pretty and twinkly at the same time- a little odd too..) and the contrast of the warmth of the opening scenes was very blatant and unsophisticated. I still can’t decide whether the production was trying to state Hermione forgave Leontes or not. It seemed to me that she solely had kept herself alive in order to demonstrate the oracle was correct and that she would see her daughter again. She seemed somewhat reluctant to really show any affection for Leontes- and who can blame her? As the characters disappeared (into faded moonlight?) it looked as if she was dragging her feet, her arms, and those long triangular sleeves hanging somewhat despondently as she was still expected to tow the line and be close to both her pathetic husband and his friend who had demonstrated amply in his treatment of his son,that he was as bigoted in his attitudes.
All somewhat depressing.The Winter’s Tale is often described as a fairy tale- if so it’s one where you come away thinking that the two kings don’t really deserve a great deal at the end and certainly their behaviour does not condone a “happily ever after”
It would be nice to think that Paulina and Camillo could enjoy each other’s company in their old age- having sacrificed so much for their mainly undeserving monarchs. But I don’t suppose it would work out. And he’d want to be in charge when clearly she has the brains for both of them!