A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
The Winter's Tale

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 magic reigns.