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The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company


The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Garrick Theatre, London


S


easons are in vogue. If it isn’t Michael Grandage or


Jamie Lloyd it is Matthew Warchus putting a post-Spacey stamp on the Old Vic. Seasons are when directors finally get enough clout and have enough star friends to do it their way. If they fail it’s back to being a jobbing director for them. Kenneth Branagh has been here


before with his fringe-like Renais- sance Theatre Company back in 1988. Now a successful Hollywood director, he’s back in Olivier’s Actor/ Manager mode at the Garrick, where he’s landed with an odd selection of works. It begins with Shakespeare’s dark problem play The Winter’s Tale, from which West End producers normally run a mile. However with himself and Dame Judi Dench in the leads, it has of course sold out before it has opened. For the first half of the six play


season he’s paired it with some dusty Rattigans – Harlequinade, a one-act farce last seen in 1948 and a short


56 The American Harlequinade and All On Her Own by Terence Rattigan Reviewed by Jarlath O’Connell Tickets are sold out, but some for The Winter’s Tale are available as part of a dinner package at www.garricktheatre.org


monologue, All On Her Own, for Zoe Wanamaker. The Winter’s Tale unfolds like an


Edwardian Christmas card scene, bau- bles on the tree and a cozy family fire- side in Act 1 and a Winter Wonderland makeover for Act 3 when we return to Sicily. In between we get Bohemia as a summer glade with romping shep- herds and their lasses. Christopher Oram’s designs, Neil Austin’s lighting, Christopher Shutt’s sound and Jon Driscoll’s video projections are top class throughout. A trim and confident Branagh looks in his element back on the boards and delivering the Bard with his customary clarity and ease. But it’s a hard sell as Leontes (King of Sicily) is such an unsympathetic part. Leontes’ unfounded jealousy at his wife, Her- mione’s, friendship with his childhood friend Polixenes (King of Bohemia) causes him to plot his friend’s death, to have his wife imprisoned and her newborn child, which he suspects isn’t his, to be left to perish on a


remote wasteland. Among the courti- ers only his wife’s loyal, disbelieving, friend Paulina (Judi Dench), has the courage to challenge him. Dench plays her not typically as a scold but rather as the spirited voice of his con- science and her grounded perfor- mance is a useful counterbalance to Branagh’s rather old-school take on the brooding King. Her curse “Partake thee to nothing but despair” is per- fectly chilling. Miranda Raison too is a dignified Hermione and as beautiful as a Millais painting when, as a statue, she comes alive. Branagh has also cleverly sur-


rounded himself with vastly expe- rienced Shakespeareans such as Michael Pennington (Antigonus) and John Shrapnel (Camillo) who bring a gravitas to the supporting parts. There are also great musical theater talent on display, useful for the musi- cal excerpts, including Hadley Fraser (Polixenes), John ‘Sunny Afternoon’ Dagleish (Autolycus) and a luminous Jessie Buckley (Perdita), a star in the


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