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Royal family:  jealousy, selfies and a bear in pursuit.

March 8, 2017

 

The Winter's Tale, Cheek By Jowl, Warwick Arts Centre until Saturday March 11.

In the half-light of a shadowy stage, Leontes, King of Sicily, is confiding in us his bitter suspicions of an affair between his pregnant queen and his oldest childhood friend.

 There's no shortage of deranged and vengeful kings in Shakespeare, but this is barely scene one,  and, maddened by jealousy, Leontes is already dismantling his family and tearing up the bonds of love that bind them.

 Even by the standards of wilful monarchy, this looks premature.

 Cheek By Jowl's new production of The Winter's Tale, midway through a tour of European cities, with Moscow still to come, is, as one would expect, engagingly performed and cleverly staged.

 The set, literally just a bench and a box, works beautifully as a minimalist foil for all that raging emotion in the words.

 The central performances of Orlando James as Leontes and Natalie Radmall-Quirke, as his poor wronged queen Hermione, are strong and there's a terrific cameo from Tom Cawte as their tortured son Mamillius.

 One moment, he is bleating that everyone treats him like a babe, the next he is demonstrating, with the ferocity of a demented two-year-old, why they are right to do so.

 It's all going horribly wrong for Leontes and his doomed family. But then, for this audience member at least, comes bewilderment. The scene switches with shutter speed-rapidity and we're at a raucous party somewhere west of Dublin, with selfies, The Fool as singer songwriter and the obligatory cat fight between two maidens.

 Love is in the air and somehow, out of all the comedic chaos, Shakespeare contrives a happy ending - except for sad Mamillius, a ghost at the feast, so to speak, and that other poor blighter, Antigonus, who is the victim of what's widely regarded as the most humorous stage direction in Shakespeare - 'exit, pursued by a bear'.

 A nasty end for him, from the sound of it.

Picture: Joy Richardson and Orlando James

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