The world seems to be looking backwards at the start of Cheek by Jowl's touring presentation of Shakespeare's late period mash-up of light and shade. The homo-erotic locker-room rough and tumble between young kings Leontes and Polixenes that follows sees Leontes attempt to persuade his life-long buddy to hang out just a while longer. This is is a hint of the fall-out to come in Declan Donnellan's modern dress production, which flits between the stately seriousness of Sicilia and the anything-goes back-woods of Bohemia.
Orlando James' Leontes manipulates his own imagination as he moves Polixenes and his own wife Hermione around like statues. In the public trial that follows, it his macho insecurity that fires his jealousy, so his fear of the truth destroys everything he has, including himself. Such is the way with men in power.
Fast forward sixteen years, and Leontes and Hermione's lost daughter Perdita has grown up in what appears to be rural Ireland. At the sheep-shearing that fires the second half of the show's brio, there is line-dancing, a hipster's open mic night and a Jeremy Kyle style confessional, but there is also romance, as Perdita and Florizel's amours are rudely interrupted before events turn serious once more.
A formal depth hangs heavy over Donnellan's production, with the lights dimming red over the wooden shipping container at the back of Nick Ormerod's set that transports us between worlds. The company's youthful fourteen-strong ensemble similarly switch moods, with Eleanor McLoughlin's Perdita as much a life-force as Natalie Radmall-Quirke's Hermione. As for Leontes, reconciliation, when it comes, is made bittersweet in the play's final painterly tableaux by the lingering image of what was so needlessly lost.
The Herald, January 27th 2017