The Winter's Tale
Royal Shakspeare Company / Heritage Theatre
The subtitle of this DVD is A Production Casebook and it is important for viewers to understand that this is not a full recording of the approximately three-hour RSC production from the Barbican Theatre.
This two-hour film contains about 50 per cent of the play together a series of insightful interviews with all of the leading figures both on and offstage.
Gregory Doran's 1998/99 production of The Winter's Tale, this "exploration of sexual obsession and madness", was absolutely marvellous. It lives on in the memory even so many years and several productions later. Somehow, its setting in what designer Robert Jones describes as "a vaguely Romanov period" works well.
It contained a superb performance from Sir Antony Sher as Leontes. As a result of one of the interviews, it is possible to understand the depth of his research into the madness that afflicted his character.
Sir Antony spent some time interviewing psychiatrists until eventually, he was convinced that the symptoms depicted by Shakespeare are exactly those of the malady now known as morbid jealousy. Armed with this information, he was able to produce an entirely coherent performance in a difficult part.
He is supported in fine fashion by two ladies, Alexandra Gilbreath as Hermione and Estelle Kohler as her servant and the only person willing to take on the raging King, Paulina. These two are the key players who build up to the great moment when the Bard mystically and very movingly assists his characters to turn back the years and create a suitably happy ending.
As with so many Shakespearean productions, there is also an opportunity for a comedian to shine and Ian Hughes in the part of Autolycus is absolutely hilarious, picking pockets and even the trousers containing them.
This DVD is ideal for directors and actors, students and their teachers with its combination of recorded performance and interviews with director, designer, actors and even voice coach Cicely Berry. Their dissection of such a challenging play and, in particular, this version of it, really assists in an understanding of what is considered by some, including the reviewer, to be one of Shakespeare's finest works.
For those just keen to see the play and nothing but the play, this is a consolation prize rather than the gold medal. Once it gets going, it does get into the play's rhythm and acts as a fine reminder of a very moving evening.
According to producer Robert Marshall, the RSC had embargoed the release of a full-scale recording. However, he has now negotiated a contract for its sale some time in 2005. This is a real treat in store for all lovers of Shakespeare and two of his leading contemporary exponents, Sir Anthony Sher and Gregory Doran. Until then, this version is a worthwhile substitute. For those in the business or wishing to learn about it, both recordings will be musts for the collection.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher