Review of the Play (Epidaurus, August 2009)
“The Winter’s tale” was one of the most interesting, fun & modern theater productions we’ve seen in the near past in the ancient theater of Epidaurus. Sam Mendes and Old Vic/BAM created real magic, keeping the audience interest for almost 3 hours (and no break!).
All these in one of the most problematic plays of Shakespeare. Because “The Winter’s tale” is a really weird case: starts as a tragedy but ends-up as a comedy, contains turn-arounds that could be characterized as strange, while in-between there is also a… bear! Talks about the blind jealousy of king of Sicilia Leontes for his wife, that leads him to kill her and abandon his newly-born daughter to Bohemia. The play follows the daughter who will grow and ultimately return to her home country.
But all these are not important when there is talent & inspiration: the 2 key components of this production. Under the guidance of Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), the oldest theater company in London (“Old Vic”) in-cooperation with the American “BAM” played with pace, wit and brought in-front of our eyes the strange characters of “The Winter’s tale”:
– The jealous king Leontes by Simon Russell Beale was excellent from every point of view. I’m not sure if this is the most important British stage actor (as I’ve read), but it is certainly an actor that knows how to substantiate a role.
– All the supporting roles were great: Paulina by Sinead Cusack was firm against the blinded from jealousy Leontes, Camillon (Paul Jesson) a true servant to the tormented king, but the most interesting to me was the young shepherd by Tobias Segal. I really didn’t know Tobias but I’m planning to follow this talented actor in the future.
Nevertheless there were really 3 things that made this production take-off:
1) The unique Rebecca Hall that played with unbelievable passion the wrongly-accused Hermione. I’ve seen all 3 movies of Rebecca Hall and she’s a very promising young actress. Her stage performance was even stronger: a dramatic interpretation full of sensitivity that really made the difference on the tragic 1st part of the play: what a fantastic actress!
2) Ethan Hawke was the key to the second part of the play (comedy). Hawke leveraged the role of Autolycus running up and down the stage with humor and singing in a unique way with references to the American folk & Dylan.
3) Finally to Sam Mendes belong the credits for pace, originality and freshness: bringing everything together in a unique and moving way that had us all smiling when exiting the theater. The Bridge Project (the idea of collaboration between New York & London) is really a wonderful undertaking.