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The Winter’s Tale

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
The Winter’s Tale has always been a play with an identity crisis. In part demonstrating the consequences of Leontes’ own mid-life funk when unfounded jealousy gets the better of him, its third act lurch into altogether sunnier climes is an awkward looking fancy which frankly outstays its welcome by a country mile before the reconciliation with Hermione takes place.

Mark Thomson’s deceptively bright production by and large plays it straight, as anyone familiar with Thomson’s stabs at Shakespeare will recognise. Handsome, suited and booted, utterly faithful to the text – at times too much so - and frequently featuring the ever brilliant Liam Brennan in a leading role, all of this is present and correct here to the extent that there are times you can’t help but crave more audacity beyond the snowy flecks on the mens’ jackets.

When it comes, in the face of Time, who ushers us among the country artisans where a grown-up Perdita frolics with Polixenes’ son Florizel at the top of the play’s second half, it’s a treat impressively at odds with everything else. Because Time is here a vocodered up Stephen Hawking figure whose wheelchair is lowered down from the rafters in a far odder personification than the play’s famed stage direction concerning a bear (here realised, incidentally, by a deft use of shadow-play).

It’s a throwaway gag that’s never fully exploited. But then, when Brennan is on a stage, all vulnerable lost soul terrified that he might lose Selina Boyack’s Hermione, positively glowing with pregnant vivacity, you don’t really need much else. If only the future Time promised had allowed Leontes access to DNA samples, lie detector tests and Jeremy Kyle, the whole rotten palaver might have been sorted out a lot quicker in a prettily realised but over-long affair.

The Herald, September 24th 2007

ends

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