The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick Theatre with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench
The Winter’s Tale is the start of a series of plays at the Garrick by Kenneth Branagh’s theatre company, Branagh Theatre. Known for his many interpretations of the various works of Shakespeare, this lesser-performed play is safe in his capable hands. The play is a classical fairytale mixed with both the comedy and tragedy of ancient Greek theatre. Branagh and artistic associates Rob Ashford and Christopher Oram present a refreshing and enthralling piece that combines the majestic with the magical.
The plush environs of the Garrick are a suitable home for a broody wintry story that has elements of terror, anguish, whimsy, comedy and love. Its regal halls feel like an extension of Leontes’s royal Sicilian court that blend into the vast Bohemian countryside. The juxtaposition of the sombreness of Sicily, even in happy times, next to the brightness of Bohemia represents the overall difference between the two places and how the characters behave when there. The sets are moved about in in a fanciful manner and the variety of methods used to portray different locations and effects is subtle while holding attention.
The cast includes Branagh as an erratic but not unsympathetic Leontes, and Dame Judi Dench as the wise Paulina who oversees proceedings relaying both infectious joy and woeful heartache. But their presence does not detract from the rest of the stellar cast who are flawless in weaving this tale of whimsy and woe. Hadley Fraser’s charming Polixenes makes Leontes’s paranoid suspicions almost justifiable. Jessie Buckley and Tom Bateman as Perdita and Florizel are joyous as young lovers, but mature quickly and convincingly. John Dagleish as Autolycus provides mischievous comic relief, always just teetering on the right side of malicious.
With such magnificent sets and a powerful cast, it seems a shame that much of the finale is narrated whereas it could easily have been shown alongside the comedic exposition. However, as the first offering from this season, it sets the bar high as a wondrous fairy tale for adults.
The Winter’s Tale is on at the Garrick Theatre from 17th October 2015 until 16th January 2016, for further information or to book visit here.