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THE WINTER’S TALE

04-06-2009

The Winters Tale RSC

The Royal Shakespeare Company unveils its new staging of The Winter’s Tale at Stratford. Richard Lutz has a theory.

This is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Forget the politics of Julius Caesar, the comedy of Midsummer’s Night Dream or the blood and love of Romeo and Juliet.

This is a tale told around a February fire, frost on the trees and the howl of wolves in the forest. It makes little sense but is infused with loss and redemption that can be as real today as it was in 161l when Will knocked it off on his Jacobean Amstrad.

It’s a part of a loose group of plays that academics called the Late Romances which means they didn’t know what to call them so made up a category: The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, Pericles and The Tempest.

And I have a theory about these plays written in the late autumn of Shakespeare’s life. They’re all about a dominating father losing a daughter.

So, in this staging of The Winter’s Tale, the king Leontes loses the daughter – Perdita- who he never saw. He thinks her dead. But she’s raised by rustic shepherds- the innocent daughter separated from the powerful and at-a-loss guilt-ridden dad.

It is Shakespeare- at the end of his career- getting something pretty deep off his chest. He himself left his two daughters home back in Stratford as he made his living in London. And I think- through these late plays- he is racked by sadness and guilt and banging plays out to rid himself of some heavyweight regret. I mean, the play even has a young son who suddenly dies - something that happened to Shakespeare when his only male offspring died at 11.

Hey, I could be wrong - but so could all those books I have on my shelf that make incredible theories up about Shakespeare.

Anyway, this staging of The Winter’s Tale is memorable for its great staging and set design- a sumptuous palace surges up and in to become a forest of books, the hicks from the sticks are all colour and bounce and the uptight aristocrats all grey and freighted with sobriety.

Grey Hicks gets it right as the half demented Leontes who thinks he loses his wife and daughter (and then regains them) and a chirpy Tunji Kasim gets to chirp away as an infatuated prince in love with the lovely Perdita.

So, if you are a father guilty about a daughter… this is the play for you. If you like set design… ditto. And if you’re intrigued- like I am- just who the hell Shakespeare really was… maybe this will give you an insight.

Until 3rd October at The RSC in Stratford rsc.org.uk/

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