There are, admittedly, a few good moments in Declan Donnellan’s Winter’s Tale. The opening scene is done well, with Leontes (Orlando James) manically handling both his best friend, Polixenes (Edward Sayer), and his wife, Hermione (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), roughhousing the one and ostentatiously kissing the other, leaving us with a sense that this king is giddy and unstable. The blocking is also interesting: as he begins to suspect the two are cuckolding him, Mr. James manipulates the bodies of his co-stars like full-sized marionettes, forcing awkward and mechanical copulation, thus transforming them into a physical projection of his jealousy.
Unfortunately, these rare points of inventiveness and affect are ultimately drained of their power by the wholly dispassionate production that surrounds them. Mr. Donnellan has packed his Winter’s Tale with a parade of unjustified gimmicks, and the result is that Shakespeare’s text gets buried under a barrage of cheap tricks. Here, the shearing festival becomes an episode of Jerry Springer, with Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson) mediating between a pregnant woman and the man who denies fathering her child. Speaking of Autolycus, we first meet him on the road to Bohemia, bearing a guitar and a joke he should be ashamed of: “Believe it or not, folks, this is one of Bohemia’s most famous rhapsodies.” (What exactly about this play inspires so many idiots with guitars?) Later, a TSA agent will perform their usual monologue with some anachronistic adjustments: “Dost thou have any bodkins?” and so on. All this, of course, betrays a lack of faith in Shakespeare; The Winter’s Tale is not good enough in and of itself and is obviously crying out for topical (and not so topical) interruptions.
Even Mr. Donnellan’s less outlandish moments manage to spoil any chance this Winter’s Tale has of emotional force. When Hermione pleads her innocence, her face is doubled by a large projection behind her. The microphone she uses has a slight echo, and the result is much like the rest of this trainwreck: the words are lost behind unnecessary technological stunts, and Shakespeare’s text is molested by an egotistical director who thinks tired, postmodern shenanigans are more interesting than one of the greatest works of Western drama.