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The Winter's Tale

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

A little boy in a Christmas jumper is the first person you see at the start of Max Webster's new production of Shakespeare's light and shade dramady. Grabbing the spotlight for all it's worth, young Mamillius will wind up book-ending the play in a way that will haunt his parents Leontes and Hermione forever. For now, however, it's the festive season in suburban Sicilia and he can run wild and free in his bear-suit while his mum and dad hold court. Christmas parties being what they are, alas, Leontes' jealousy of his pregnant wife's mild flirtation with his best friend Polixenes sets in motion a train of events that all but destroys the family's cosy existence.

The first half of Webster's modern-dress production is a grimly grown-up affair in which men in suits wield a power that's based on control come what may. So obsessed with Hermione's imagined indiscretion is Leontes that he can't admit the truth, even when it's proven to him in court. Sixteen years later, an apposite joy permeates Webster's Fife-based version of Bohemia in the second half. Here Leontes and Hermione's abandoned daughter has grown up as farm girl Perdita, who is courted by Polixenes' slumming-it son Florizel among the common people on gala day.

There's fun to be had here from the tracksuit-clad community led by Jimmy Chisholm's Autolycus, and who cavort to a live folk-based score led by composer/musician Alasdair Macrae. It is the crumpled gravitas that looms large over John Michie's Leontes, however, that dominates. It's as if the consequences of his actions are too much to bear, and you know that the wounded child within is screaming still.

The Herald, February 16th 2017



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