In the opening scene, director Matthew Warchus
attempts to motivate Sicilian King Leontes’ inexplicable jealousy
by depicting him as a 1930s Mafia-type Sicilian-American, who
might understandably go berserk at the thought of his wife’s infidelity
and inflict upon her the cruel and unusual punishment familiar
from television’s “Sopranos.”
But this modern-dress production creates more complications than
it explains, like placing Shakespeare’s Bohemia in America’s Southland.
In this transformation, the most successful scene is the sheep-shearing
festival, a blue grass celebration with country music.
Although some of the audience members, both
English and American, complained that they could not understand
the actors’ American accents, the Roundhouse acoustics could not
be blamed, for speech in “The Tempest” was quite clear.
Douglas Hodge, a fine actor, was the worst offender, his violent
actions seeming to blur his delivery, when he grabs his wife Hermione
and forces her head down upon the table while he rants about her
“treachery” in having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes.
Anastasia Hille is excellent as Hermione,
especially in the scene where she is put on trial by Leontes,
and stands alone in the center of the huge arena, chained by the
ankle as she defends herself in front of a microphone, while the
audience seated around the stage become trial groupies held back
by ropes. Ms. Hille’s Hermione, displaying dignity under fire,
rationally explains why she is falsely accused, and reminds Leontes,
who judges her, that she has no fear of death, having been deprived
of all she lived for.
Shakespeare’s contrast of the merriment of
the sheep-shearing with the darkness of the earlier scenes is
effectively achieved by a band of musicians playing country music,
with a solo by Lauren Ward as Perdita (Leontes’ abandoned child).
Alan Turkington as a stalwart Florizel is able to make this bland
role convincing, as he does with Ferdinand in “The Tempest.” And
Keith Bartlett as the Old Shepherd who finds and brings up Perdita
and Dylan Charles as his son are especially good as country bumpkins
who at the end easily convert to the aristocracy.
The production opens with a magic disappearing
act, staged as banquet entertainment for the visiting Polixenes,
and foreshadowing Hermione’s disappearance after the trial scene,
when she supposedly dies. When her “statue” comes to life at the
end, the family are reunited, Leontes is forgiven, and Shakespeare’s