Browse reviews

Fringe Online 2020

The Winter’s Tale

Cheek By Jowl, The Space BBC

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Dark Comedy, Drama, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Online Theatre, Theatre

Venue: The Barbican

Festival: ,

Low Down

Directed by Declan Donnelan, Designed by Neil Ormerod, Lit by Judith Greenwood/David Salter, Composer Paddy Cunneen, Sound Fred Riding, Associate & Movement Director Jane Gibson, Assistant Director Marcus Montgomery Roche, Assistant Movement Elizabeth Ballinger, Casting Director Siobhan Bracke, Costume Supervisor Angie Burns, Company Manager Tim Speechley, Technical Director Simon Bourne, Wardrobe Rebecca Rees, Filmed Silk Street Barbican April 19th 2017.

Riverside Studio, James Poole TV & Television, Lighting Bernie Davis, Camera Supervisor Mike Callan, Script Supervisor Claire Matthias. Till April 27th.


There’s an energy and rationale about the opening of Cheek by Jowl’s The Winter’s Tale I’ve not seen before – the production premiered in March-April 2017 at the barbican, now screened as their contribution to the lockdown.

Brooding yes but Orlando James’ initially youthful Leontes isn’t just quietly psychotic in his jealousy of his oldest friend’s non-existent affair with his wife, but seriously paranoid in his physical response. Touched off he’s about to explode.

It’s clear this Leontes’ is disturbed and this transmits too truly to his son Mamilius. There’s little of his mother in Tom Cawle’s riveting ADSD behaviour (apparently he’s an untrained 20 year old, this debut’s suitably astonishing). Father and son go play with each other with a violence they both express: at one point Leontes even strikes his son and it’s shocking. You suspect though Mamilius can never make old bones Along with the young lovers and transformation scene, this is the finest part of the production, and most original.

Directed by Declan Donnelan, its as ever designed with a minimal set by Neil Ormerod who often starts us on a single wall where everything happens in ritual fashion opening out to a series of slates and reveals, once harrowingly with the hospital-bright reveal of the dead Mamilius. The Bear’s about as convincing as the stalking Id from The Forbidden Planet, a neon green outline as Peter Moreton’s luckless Antigonus seems to be jumping at the departing ship – its foundering here omitted. Lit by Judith Greenwood – that Mamilius morgue scene, the delicate paly of green around Leontes’ stabbing jealousy, is literally a bright spot.

There’s a chance for Sicilia actors to enjoy smaller roles latterly Thus Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s mostly the queenly dignified Hermione who rises to great contained power in the trial scene, and when assaulted by Leontes touches herself and finds the blood of an induced birth upon her. It’s shocking and you wonder how on earth James can redeem his character, or if he can who’d care? Elsewhere Radmall-Quirke metamorphoseses thrillingly at the last scene, which crowns the show. It’s impossible not to be moved at this familial embrace that encompasses everyone including the ghostly Cawle.

Radmall-Quirke’s Dorcas can be a lot more flirty though. Conversely Joy Richardson’s youthful Paulina has the dignity but not the fury some bring to her chiding role; but her Mospa enjoys all that and the two as love-rivals in the sheep-shearing are a treat.

Certainly Bohemia brings new layers to the action, where Sicilai’s excellence lies in the first 30 minutes then proceeds smoothly with such figures as Joseph Black’s Cleomenes. Thus David Carr’s Camillo has more to do (Leontes’ final words being cut, he never quite gets mated with Paulina) and smaller roles are well taken.

Grace Andrews first on as waiting woman Emilia rather sparkles as a sexy sibyl when Time, Peter Moreton instantly reincarnates as a nicely fussing Old Shepherd, Sam McArdle’s Young Shepherd is a he-who-gets-slapped and painfully good as a worse fall-guy; and Guy Hughes is both Sion and provider of the live music, and alongside composer Paddy Cunneen working with Fred Riding’s sound.

It’s here Edward Sayer’s Polixenes, now bearded and neatly aged, comes into his own, sharp intelligencer of his son’s doings then expressing a rage rivalling Leontes’ sixteen years earlier.

The great revelation of Act IV though is the lovers Sam Woolf’s ardent Florizel ready at one point to get his trousers down for a quick consummation s also touching, delicate, passionately heedless. The picture of head-over-heels. Eleanor McLoughlin’s Perdita is simply marvellous, both passionate and rightly wary of her apparent compromising, both herself and the heir to the king. She expressed depths of passion and judgement, more angry than most about the bastard gillivors, perhaps a bit sensitive on the point. She comes across through the burr as someone far more seasoned in judgement than her beloved, but equally enraptured, desirous, and in everything mercurial in her social relations and her sense of duty as presider over feasts. It’s difficult not to start a tear, she’s that affecting with Woolf.

It’s Ryan Donaldson’s otherwise consummate Autolycus where troubles start. Guitar-slung and sampling at least a dew of the snatches written, he’s a perfect Reality TV host and amuses all with ad-libbing and a script clearly designed for the audience to respond to, wrong-footing people who think they should sing along, telling them that after all it’s better they don’t.

The problem’s what’s cut. All Autolycus’ redemptive act is gone, and dressing as a border official (the Old Shepherd and Young boarding a flight with comic baggage check) is taking out Young Shepherd and kicking him half to death. If it’s to re-energize a psychotically bullying trope it cuts against the logic and even grammar of the production, whose buy-in as it were to redemption is total. Much is cut from the gentleman-like tears of the shepherds though the relation of the reunions are shown in dumb-show and the core of families reuniting and marrying is kept absolutely bright.

James’ Leontes, superbly oak-aged in a beard and skin, totally convinces as 16 years older, now appears in breakdown, a man crawling his way to forgiveness on hands and knees; and where Richardson’s kinder Paulina comes into her own. The quiet centripetal pull of the statue’s coming to life on the whole cast is both moving and ingeniously blocked – Elizabeth Ballinger’s movement throught is outstnding. The truncated end works too with a rapt intensity that other parts of this production carry, albeit with a few jolts.

Far more than a curate’s egg, this production reveals things we’ve never seen, making total sense of Leontes, Mamilius, and producing outstandingly fine young lovers and a jaw-dropping finale.