While The Winter’s Tale is often dubbed one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays in comparison to the giants of Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, it is one of the most widely acted plays in modern theatre: to this end, fans of the Bard may be thinking ‘why would I want to see the play all over again?’ This is indeed something that initially cropped into director Lucy Bailey’s head when approached to direct this winter’s showing of the play at the RSC; however, as soon as she read Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy versus romance, affluence versus penuriousness, she identified links to modern society that no director has ever pinpointed in their interpretations before, and directing the play became a no-brainer.
Bailey takes Shakespeare’s 15th-century tale of two parallel cities, the prosperous Sicilia and the destitute Bohemia, and transports it to an 1860s setting, a large Ivory tower centripetal to the stage indicative of the detached Pre-Raphaelite ‘Brotherhood of love’, ignorant to the woes of the Industrial Revolution present in the world below. This unique take on the tragi-comedy sees not only a whole new take on the Sicilia-Bohemia opposition, but is something that rings true in today’s economic climate, the Ivory tower indicative of the affluence that is so starkly opposed to and detached from those hit hardest by the recession.
Bailey transports the play further into modernity by injecting a whole new lease of life through her young casting, shedding a unique new light on the interpretation of the play. King Leontes and his wife, Hermoine, are not cast in the traditional roles of aged monarchs, but have been assigned to an a-typically younger cast, making the theme of the destructive nature of jealousy to the structure of relationships even more resonant with a contemporary audience: Leontes and Hermoine are portrayed as a young couple, who’s attempts to start a family are torn apart by the savage perils of jealousy and suspected infidelity.
Alongside a very strong moral message, The Winter’s Tale offers so much more, with elements of the supernatural and fairytale, combined with the humour of the rustics in Bohemia, offering light comic relief and fascination for an audience to wholly lose themselves in.
Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
Until 23rd February
Words: Charlotte White
Image: Photo by Sheila Burnett