Just been to see Kenneth Branagh's production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale broadcast live to my local arts centre from the Garrick Theatre in London. I had such great hopes given the cast – Branagh, Judi Dench. But oh dear what a disappointment. The sound was out, by a few milliseconds only, but enough to make it seem like I was watching a badly dubbed Spanish telenovela. OK one’s brain accommodates it after several minutes, but it infuriated me all the way through.
The first scene was really quite dark and although the lighting should have created an atmosphere to capture Leontes’ (played by Branagh) insane jealousy and madness at the supposed infidelity of his wife with his friend, Polixenes, the camera angles were not conducive to it. Perhaps it was due to the small stage at The Garrick, but surely then your production team take that into account when working out the camera direction.
If the acting had been riveting, I’d have forgiven these misdemeanours but it wasn’t. I just did not feel anything from Branagh’s performance which left me cold. Maybe he was having a bad night. But all these together meant that for me the whole production was flat, it had no depth, no emotion. Honestly it was poor. I must not have been the only one to think this as after the interval the woman sitting next to me and the couple behind did not come back.
They missed the better part. The acting improved in the second half with the younger members of the cast stealing the show on the whole, albeit that again the sound engineers let them down badly. We had a feedback loop so for a minute or so we heard everything twice. The camera stayed straight for the second act, giving you a more traditional audience point of view onto the stage, like you were sitting in the theatre. This worked better, especially with there being more people on stage with the dance sequence on the sheep farm. I particularly liked Tom Bateman as Doricles/Florizel whose strong presence on the stage was evocative and full of emotion. I thought the dance sequences around his love for Perdita (Jessie Buckley) were well choreographed, albeit with the redish-purple prairie backdrop lighting effect it felt a little like a scene from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers sexed up for the modern era by the removal of the shirts of some of the males dancers.
The other actor to make a mark was John Dagleish as Autolycus, the jester cum pick pocket who really worked the stage and the audience well, like a trouper from the old time music hall. There were times when his persona came a little too close to a Dicken’s Fagin making me think we were going to hear a rendition of “I got to pick a pocket or two”.
But these higher points could not overcome the failings of artistic direction and production on the night for those of use watching it via live cinecast. I left not entirely sure what Branagh and co-director Rob Ashford were trying to achieve with this production and if I’d paid West End prices to see this I would be less than pleased.
ashramblings verdict: 2* Corny and mostly devoid of feeling!
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