The Winter’s Tale – As Loosey Goosey As It Can Get

In an apparent effort to take a novel approach, Cheek By Jowl has created a version of The Winter’s Tale into which, making few discernible decisions, they throw  everything but the kitchen sink. The unattractive, slatted crate (Nick Ormerod), which morphs into various sets, has no visual relationship to the story. Costumes range from jeans and (ugly) disco sequins to 19th century morning coats and a 1960s hippie shepherdess dress (with sneakers). Video, employed to dramatically show a few important speeches up close, is uncomfortably out of sync.


Orlando James, Natalie Radmall-Quirke

Music includes movie-ominous, traditional madrigal (sung so low it’s inaudible), and abrasive rock and roll. Both a period frolic and a western line dance appear. An airport security man goes through a suitcase confiscating toothpaste. A talk show host interviews participants at the sheep shearing. Are you wincing?

King Leontes of Sicilia (a contemporary, mostly credible Orlando James) asks pregnant wife, Hermione (a superb, Shakespearean Natalie Radmall-Quirke, but you wouldn’t believe the ridiculous shape of her belly), to help convince BFF Polixenes, ruler of Bohemia (Edward Sayer), to extend his visit. The king’s own entreaty falls on deaf ears. She does, Polixenes agrees, and bam! the king immediately concludes a back story of faithlessness. As if to confirm his vision, Leontes literally places his wife and friend in compromising positions.


The Company with Joy Richardson and Orlando James

The deranged king is a violent, egotistical bully. His poor, clearly simple son, Mamillius, (a terrific Tom Cawte), alternately suffers extreme roughhousing that passes for affection and unprovoked brutality. Polixenes is accustomed to schoolboy manhandling. Even loyal servant Camillo (David Carr, who might enunciate better) is dealt with this way. First scenes are immensely physical and often sexually ambiguous where men are concerned. The premise is well acted and intriguing but goes on and on.

Long story short: upon being warned by Camillo that he’ll be poisoned, Polixenes and the appalled servant flee back to Bohemia. Hermione is condemned to death without evidence. Mamillius grows ill and dies. The newborn princess, assumed by Leontes to be a child of illicit union, is delivered outside the kingdom, left to expire on the seashore of, you guessed it Bohemia! (Caterwauling never varies and often obscures speech.)


The Company with Ryan Donaldson

The baby is discovered and raised by an old shepherd (Peter Moreton). Named Perdita (Eleanor McLoughlin), she’s pursued and, at 16, despite better judgment, falls in love with Polixenes’s son Florizel (an excellent, naturalistic Sam Woolf). When Polixenes and Camillo spy on the prince, everything hits the fan. Of course, it all comes out in the end with a great retribution scene in Sicilia and a bookend of effective staging.

At the best of times, Leontes is less than a sympathetic character;  here he’s not just despicable, but one dimensional. Shakespeare’s vicious and mad often retain something that makes us empathetic. Not this character, not in this production. I was sure Paulina (Joy Richardson) was Leontes mother due to the court’s deference and her Queen Elizabeth over-the-arm handbag. Turns out she’s a friend of Hermione. Nor have we a clue who Grace Andrews plays (Time) when she thrice appears. And Lord knows what Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson) did in earlier productions rather than sing and play reality TV host.


Peter Moreton, Eleanor McLoughlin, Sam Woolf

The show, though it has a few fine passages, is ill conceived, irritating, and self-indulgently long. Declan Donnellan’s direction, with a few exceptions, is often a mess.

Photos by Rebecca Greenfield
Opening: Edward Sayer, Orlando James, Tom Cawte, Natalie Radmall-Quirke

William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
Cheek by Jowl
Version by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Directed by Declan Donnellan
Designed by Nick Ormerod
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street
Through December 11, 2016

About Alix Cohen (1750 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.