Saturday, 3 January 2015

Unspeakable Comfort.

We began our first full day the day on The Winter's Tale by watching Greg Doran's late nineties production RSC version with Tony Sher, Alexandra Galbaith and the brilliant Estelle Kohler as Paulina.

It's an amazingly fresh production given it's over a decade old, and despite a few problems - Mamillius is unreasonably sickly and wheelchair bound - made a clear fist of telling the story and unpicking the multitude of problems thrown up. It also featured our old friend Ian Hughes in high octane spirits as Autoclyus.

As with all Tony Sher performances the psychological research into his role gave us a naked portrait of the various stages of Leontes' breakdown and this really became the theme for the day, as our first study group, led by Sally, delved into the opening encounters.

When Gielgud played the role he couldn't find either moment or reason for Leontes to become jealous and so created a backstory which enabled him to be suspicious from his first entrance.

There are other clues and perhaps Leontes is less concerned about Hermione's perceived infidelity and more traumatised by the approaching departure of his true soul mate, Polixenes? This fear of separation is exacerbated by Hermione taking moments to convince the King of Bohemia to stay, when Leontes' himself failed so spectacularly.

 There is an awkward passage in the aftermath to this where Leontes' suggests this is the second time Hermione has 'said well.' Hermione, playing for the court, begs to know the first time and Leontes' reveals

'Why, that was when
Three crabbed months had soured themselves to death
Ere I could make thee open thy white hand
And clap thyself my love; then didst thou utter
'I am yours for ever.''

It strikes me that the time scale is important here. The ease with which Polixenes and Hermnone arrive at agreement feels complicit when compared with the 'three crabbed months' of Leontes' wooing.

Mamillius himself is a fascinating character. Leontes keeps looking at him as if he were a looking glass in these opening sequences, projecting himself onto his son, reminding himself of his desire to be 'boy eternal.' In the very first scene, before we're introduced to the play's main protagonists, the Sicillian Lord Camillo discusses Mamillius's national importance with his Bohemian counterpart Archidamus. Archidamus suggests that the young prince has given 'unspeakable comfort' to the people.

Leontes is at the height of his powers at the top of the play. He has a doting wife, an heir, security in power and has had his best friend on an extended royal visit. Perhaps the unspeakable part of all of this is his desire to destroy the perfection of this world? Perhaps his is a pre-emptive attack. to control a decline that is inevitable from this moment. In doing so he challenges the Gods, time and nature itself.

It's Paulina who will need to help him put things back together, but this won't happen onstage and it'll take sixteen years.

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