The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0405 Monday, 11 February 2002
From: Karen Peterson <
Date: Monday, 11 Feb 2002 03:51:09 -0800 (PST)
Subject: RSC Winter's Tale Production Casebook
A couple of months back there was some brief discussion of the RSC's
"production casebook" video of Greg Doran's 1997 Winter's Tale. I
finally was able to see this, and wanted to offer some comments for
those who may be considering whether it would be worthwhile purchasing
this version (which is available in PAL format from the RSC's online
First, this is not a filmed version of the play...we get only heavily
cut scenes (but there are scenes from each act). While the
between-scenes interviews have more to do with staging the play, rather
than adapting the staged version to film/TV, still, the comments
provided by Greg Doran, the stage designers, and actors provide
interesting insights. An example: Doran's remarks on the Act 5 statue
scene. They chose to perform the scene without irony, completely
straight, emphasizing "if the actors *believe* in this, in the wonder of
Hermione's transformative return, so will the audience."
Antony Sher talked about his pre-performance research, which included
talking to psychologists and psychiatrists about what might, in
contemporary psychological currency, have been going on with Leontes.
According to Sher, one psychologist was especially helpful to him,
identifying in Leontes' behavior an exact correspondance to recognized
psychiatric condition, "morbid jealousy". The play's depiction,
apparently, matches the diagnostic criteria very closely, even in its
representation of Leontes' reactions when he realizes he has been wrong,
and has wronged his faithful wife.
In the description Sher gave of how the directors and he came to see his
Leontes, he emphasized that all parties recognized that he is NOT a
traditionally beautiful tragic/romantic hero type. Sher said they
assumed the relationship between Sher's Leontes and Polixenes was one
where the latter was ALWAYS the better-looking one, the one who was good
at games, the one who had better luck with women. Sher went on to say
that he blended this with the often-overlooked line which indicates that
Hermione had, on his first proposal, rejected him, only accepting his
offers of marriage later. Sher and Doran based Leontes' inexplicable
jealousy NOT on how Hermione interacted with Polixenes in Act I (which
was, incidentlly, how Hytner and Jennings played it in last year's
National production) but rather on how that first refusal had buried
itself deep in his memory and gnawed away at him, creating a paranoid
state of insecurity, which evolved into a state of morbid jealousy under
the additional pressures of Hermione's second pregnancy and Polixenes'
Alexandra Gilbreath's Hermione seemed, at first, a bit stiff and
mannered. She was breathtaking in the trial scene, though, and in the
Act 5 statue scene. The actress who played Paulina was excellent, and
the interviews with her (quite a few!) were consistently interesting.
This "casebook" version's chief value seems to me to consist in that it
does give an "insider" view to what one particular RSC production was
trying to accomplish. In some ways, I think the casebook form really
helped to make the overall video/filmed version more effective. It led
us inexorably toward the *staged* version, made no effort to be an
independent film, but at the same time was able to show nuances that
perhaps might not have been available to those who saw one performance
only of the staged version.
Some incidental observations: Sher's portrayal of Leontes, while clearly
(and admittedly) psychologically nuanced, did not (to me, at least) bear
any gay inflections. If anything, it bore resonances of his portrayal
of Disraeli in the film *Mrs. Brown*.
The makeup was terrific, especially for Sher. By Act 5 he realistically
looked as if 16 years had passed.
The production had a quite-wonderful sheep-shearing festival, again
played entirely straight...the interviewees commented that they wanted
to evoke an English Midlands in the renaissance mood.
All in all, what I saw in the video of the 1997 production (which was,
again, only representative scenes, given the casebook form), was
outstanding. The interviews worked very well, I thought, to bring out
those features which had intrigued Doran and the actors. As a kind of
hybrid between a filmed stage production and a fully realized film, it
is well worth the price of the video.
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