|Antigonus and the Bear from The Winter's Tale |
Author: Thomas Bragg (printmaker)
Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection
Creative Commons Licence
The Royal Ballet, The Winter's Tale, Royal Opera House, 16 April 2016
Sometimes a dish tastes better second time round. That may be because the meat has a chance to marinate. Or it may be because of a mood change. If you've set your heart on fish and chips and that's no longer on the menu nothing on earth is going to make you enjoy Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy in the same way however tasty that may be.
Theatre can be a bit like that. You see a performance one day and it washes over you. You see the same show again some time later perhaps with a different cast and it really speaks to you. That has happened to me with Christopher Wheeldon's adaptation of The Winter's Tale. When I saw it for the first time just over two years ago I thought it was sort of OK but nowt to write home about as we say in Yorkshire and I regret that I damned it with faint praise (see Royal Ballet "The Winter's Tale" 14 April 2014). I wrote:
"I expected so much of The Winter's Tale. I had been looking forward to it for months. A new work by Christopher Wheeldon based on Shakespeare by a fine choreographer for our national company with a stellar cast. It should have blown me off my feet. Well I quite liked the show but blown off my feet? I wasn't."I saw it again on Monday and loved it unreservedly.
Why the change? I think the reason I didn't get The Winter's Tale the first time round was that I had just not been in the mood for it. As I wrote at the time:
"Now I have to say that I was not in the most receptive frame of mind when I entered the Royal Opera House. I had a horrible journey down to London and I had been working late throughout the previous night. I had skipped breakfast and had only a light lunch. Consequently I was tired and hungry. Had I not paid a lot of money for my ticket I would have gone straight to bed. Moreover, the reason that I had to work through the night was that I had spent a couple of hours in Huddersfield town hall listening to the Choral's performing one of the most memorable concerts I have ever attended or am ever likely to attend. It may be that anything after that concert was going to be an anticlimax."In fact, I began to appreciate the ballet when I saw it on screen a few days later (see The Winter's Tale - Time to eat my Hat 29 April 2014). I enjoyed it all the more when I saw it again on on telly on Christmas day.
On Monday I was in the mood for Wheeldon's ballet even though I had been up since 04:00 our time in order to catch my flight home from Budapest after a memorable experience the night before and a hard day's work in London. It is a very satisfying work, architectural in its symmetry with recurring features such as the colour coding of the courts of Bohemia and Sicilia, the bands on stage in all three acts, the moving statues, the trees and galleons .... I could go on. There is much drama in his choreography such as Leontes's contortions to denote his jealousy in act 1 and the symbolic reconciliation of the laying on of hands in act III first by Perdita and Florizel and later by her father. That moment and also the reunion of Perdita with her parents a few moments later had me close to tears. There are moments of great joy such as the folk dancing in act II that I have always liked:
"Act II is very different. Set around a gnarled moss covered tree there is a festival with exuberant dancing accompanied by the most infectiously vibrant music. Perdita danced by Sarah Lamb and Florizel by Stephen McRae fall in love. They are spied on and discovered by Polixenes, king of Bohemia, who threatens to kill them but they set sail to Sicily with the king of Bohemia in hot pursuit. Little details like the fact that Bohenia is landlocked don't seem to have bothered Shakespeare or even Wheeldon. However there is such a thing as poetic licence and this is a case where it applies. Nevertheless, this is is the best bit of the ballet and that is possibly because it is the part that owes least to Shakespeare."This time I loved it. Similarly, I have always enjoyed Joby Talbot's score: "Valiant Talbot" as he is described by Nigel Bates in the programme notes. And the special effects - especially the ships and even the bear with its ghostly muzzle - were outstanding.
Did I like this cast more than the last one? I don't think that could have been possible as I admire Cuthbertson, Lamb, McRae and Watson enormously. But Marianela Nuñez was a magnificent Hermione, Beatriz Stix-Brunell a delightful Perdita, Vadim Muntagirov a charming Florizel and Bennet Gartside reflected the torrent of emotions in Leontes's head brilliantly. Monday was the first time I had noticed Itziar Mendizabal. She danced Paulina, loyal to Hermione and Leontes, and the agent of their reunion and reconciliation which is one of the most moving scenes in any ballet. As he comes from Bradford it is always a pleasure to see Thomas Whitehead. He danced the old shepherd on Monday.
I would love to see this ballet again and I think I owe it to the dancers to see the same cast as I saw in 2014. There will be performances of the work between now and the 10 June.