The Winter's Tale
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 20 Oct
So much of Shakespeare’s work examines the disparity between the rational, ordered world, governed by laws and etiquettes long since agreed and more pre-rational, primal urges and experiences, but seldom was it more intensively explored than in The Winter’s Tale. Mark Thomson’s production for the Lyceum keeps close to this central thread throughout what is truly a play of two halves, moving as it does from a tragic first half to a peculiarly comic, romantic denouement.
In it King Leontes’ (Liam Brennan) sudden, completely irrational jealousy over his pregnant wife’s (Selina Boyack) imagined affair with his best friend Polixenes (Ian Grieve) comes as as much of a shock as ever. His wrath wreaks tragedy from his own pent-up land of Sicilia to the contrasting, more at ease with itself Bohemia. Yet, even this latter land is not without its odd jealous rage.
In front of Robin Don’s relatively plain grey-white design, our actors first appear with a layer of dust on their modern suited-up costumes, a device that perhaps slightly overstates the staid nature of repressive Sicilia. Yet there’s much to enjoy in the performances. Brennan’s Leontes, spitting out his enraged malice at the audience then collapsing into semi-invalid grief is a compelling watch, as is Boyack’s endlessly suffering Hermione, while Phillip Pinsky’s clever soundscape veers as wildly as the play’s shifting moods. Whether the production, well performed as it is, finally overcomes the play’s eccentric structure is a moot point, but it’s enjoyable throughout.