If you had to pick a Shakespeare play in which others had a hand, The Winter's Tale might - wrongly - be first choice. With its sudden, almost inexplicable changes of mood, the play crashes through the gears from comedy through tragedy to comic pastoral and, along the way famously includes pursuit by a bear and the statue of a dead woman coming to life.
Dominic Cooke's assured promenade production does much to overcome misgivings about the play, best experienced here as a groundling. As the Tale opens it is New Year's Eve in the court of Sicily, circa1950. We mingle with the guests, sipping champagne as Leontes and co see the New Year in. And we see, at close hand, the king's vertiginous fall into a jealous ecstasy.
From here the play, like Blasted set out to, explores the way in which a single 'private' act of cruelty can have a devastating impact on many lives - like the widening ripples from a stone thrown in a pond - before a final scene of reconciliation, the leitmotif of Shakespeare's late work.
Anton Lesser, last seen here in Doran's All's Well that Ends Well three years ago, is on excellent form as Leontes, a part which requires an actor to turn, in an instant, from genial father and friend into a psychopath and, as suddenly, into one suddenly brought to his senses and deeply penitent.
He is strongly supported by Kate Fleetwood as Queen Hermione, never more effective than in the trial scene in which she unsteadily but defiantly defends her honour. Also particularly noteworthy are Joseph Mydell as the noble-hearted Camillo, Linda Bassett as his indomitable wife Paulina, Richard Katz as the slippery Autolycus, looking for all the world like Gerry Sadowitz, and Richard Moore, as the old shepherd, a lovely performance.
There's a sense of coherence about Cooke's production which seemed lacking in the companion Pericles but which, however, shares the Tale's virtues of pace and an intelligent use of the whole of the Swan. Even the tiresome bucolic revelry of the second half make fewer demands on one's patience than they are wont to. Being on one's feet for three hours and dodging actors and props is taxing, but this is a Winter you'll warm to.
- Pete Wood