Despite some beautiful moments, the RSC’s filmed take on The Winter’s Tale has problems beyond being a problem play
“Shakespeare lived through a pandemic and it was during that time he wrote King Lear”
The pandemic brought about some really interesting responses from several of our major producing houses, the call to just ‘do it online’ proving much easier to yell from our lockdowned sofas than to actually put into practice. Some theatres that could, delved into their cupboards to dust off archive copies that were never meant to see the light of day, and the National gave us NT at Home watchalongs but also created something unique with their hybrid theatre/film version of Romeo and Juliet.
The RSC opted to mount a filmed version of their postponed production of The Winter’s Tale, rescued by the BBC’s Lights Up arts strand. But despite it being specifically created for screen, it doesn’t really make the most of this new medium. Erica Whyman’s production is full of some gorgeous moments – not least multiple breathtaking fabric drops (Hermione and the baby’s shroud? Simply stunning!) – but it feels like (perhaps not unreasonably) this is just the version that we would have seen onstage.
Which means that we get some good, occasionally great acting which sits a little awkwardly on the TV screen. From the moment Joseph Kloska’s appealingly bearded Leontes delivers his asides straight into the camera in the first scene, this uneasy tension means the show never cuts through into being something essentially fascinating. It isn’t helped by an uncertainty about what this production is trying to say.
Shifted into the 1950s and 60s has visual currency but doesn’t add anything to our understanding, indeed one could be left mildly flummoxed as to how anyone actually feels in a non-commital final scene that should be resounding with revelations. Still, there’s great work from Kemi-Bo Jacobs’ poised Hermione and Amanda Hadingue’s practical Paulina in this solid production.