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King Leontes of Bohemia suspects his wife, Hermione, and his friend, Polixenes, of betraying him. When he forces Polixenes to flee for his life, Leontes sets in motion a chain of events that lead to death, a ferocious bear, an infant left in the snow, young love, and a statue coming to life.Written by
Though this production is not without some minor flaws, it is overall a sparkling version of a magnificent play. In particular, the director Jane Howell recognizes that the sumptuous language of the play is its foremost virtue, and she assigns top priority to the recitation of that language.
The director is helped by superb acting from virtually every performer who appears. On the one hand, there are a few blemishes in the performance by Jeremy Kemp. For example, he rather awkwardly clutches his son while he is delivering the crucial "Affection" soliloquy, and he does not adequately convey a sense of desolation after the deaths of his son and wife have been announced to him in Act III. However, the few shortcomings in his performance are greatly surpassed by its overall excellence.
Most of the other performances are flawless or nearly so. Margaret Tyzack is the very embodiment of speaking truth to power in her role as Paulina; David Burke (who is married to Anna Calder-Marshall, who impeccably plays Hermione) is convincing at every stage as Camillo; Cyril Luckham is a highly entertaining Antigonus; Robert Stephens is fine in the quite difficult role of Polixenes (difficult because Polixenes in much of the second half is as heavy-handedly oppressive as Leontes in the first half, albeit for different reasons); Paul Jesson and Arthur Hewlett are amusing as the rustic father and son; Rikki Fulton is an engaging Autolycus; and the sundry other members of the cast likewise carry out their roles admirably.
The passage of sixteen years is not handled especially well, as only a few characters (Camillo, Hermione, Cleomines, Dion) look any older in the second half of the play than in the first half. The notorious difficulty of the exit of Antigonus pursued by a bear is likewise not handled particularly well, as the bear looks preposterously phony. (If that bit of the play were unequivocally comical, the phoniness of the bear would be unexceptionable. However, the pursuit of Antigonus is an event that leads to his gory death even though it also offers material for some entertaining remarks by Paul Jesson's character.) Still, the minor defects in this production detract only very slightly from its magic. I heartily recommend it to anyone who loves Shakespeare's awe-inspiring language and to anyone who admires fine acting.
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