The Winter's Tale (1990): Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

PrThe Winter's Tale (

Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: Sean Baker (Leontes); Mark Drewry (Polixenes); Claire Hackett (Perdita); Adrian Lester (Florizel); Myra McFadyen (Autolycus); Barbara Marten (Hermione).

This production ran from 8 February - 17 March 1990 and also toured nationally including dates in Grimsby, Bedford, Burton-on-Trent, Crewe, Whitehaven, Stroud and Chelmsford.

"It is a quirkily innovative production, spartan by the standards we have come to expect from the Royal Exchange but with inventive touches that verge on indulgence. Anthony Ward's setting is a bare mustard floor, with pink chairs for Sicilia and green for Bohemia. I missed the sense of seasonal change that The Winter's Tale implies through its imagery. This production was at its absorbing best when the actors were given their heads - Ellie Haddington's persuasive Paulina virtually carried the show; Barbara Marten's Hermione had an impressive dignity; Adrian Lester's young prince and Claire Hackett's lost princess were filled with charm and knowing innocence; and Kevin Quarmby's Camillo had a rugged integrity."  ~ Robin Thornber, The Guardian, undated press cutting in the Royal Exchange archive

"When the oracle is brought to Leontes' court from Delphos, its casket is set perfectly in the centre of the round bare stage. Its pronouncement that 'Hermione is chaste; Polixenes blameless; Camillo a true subject; Leontes is a jealous tyrant; his innocent babe truly begotten" is not read by an officer, as the text has it, but comes from the disembodied voice of Apollo - a female voice. The effect is very definitely of truth speaking in defence of her own. That illuminated central spot has just been occupied by Hermione herself on trial, and by the infant Perdita, represented here by a box of light, laid before the ferocious king her father. It is the same place where the child will be found in Bohemia, and on which Hermione will come back to life. In Phyllida Lloyd's production at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, everything literally centres in these female images. But what does a female Apollo mean for what follows? Leontes denies the oracles truth, and at once his and Hermione's son is struck dead. In one sense it is Leontes' word that kills the boy, just as he has roughly told him earlier to 'go play boy, play', but the execution must be Apollo's own rigour. This innovation adds to the one loss not recovered by the redemptions of the play's second half. In general, Lloyd's production - her first as associate director at the Exchange - is better at redemption than the preceding corruption. Anthony Ward's spare design of bare yellow boards and long black coats does not help much to create atmosphere in the Sicilian court, and a couple of details - heavies in black glasses, miming news reporters - are cliched or strained. But the main problem here is Sean Baker's Leontes, who only rarely convinces us of his jealous fever. The first half, though, is saved by Ellie Haddington's Paulina. Taking his baby to Leontes, the way she says 'He must be told on't, and he shall' embodies all her knowing determination. With that vital rasp in her voice, she shivers us again and again in this wonderful part. From here the evening improves steadily. Claire Hackett's genuinely country Perdita is properly loyal to the shepherds and has sex and wit as well as blessedness. Her Florizel (Adrian Lester) is thankfully humourous. The staging of the comic scenes does tend to throw on everything - a kilted Glaswegian Autolycus on a moped (an entertaining Myra McFadyen), stuffed sheep, a country and western band - but a lot of it sticks. Christine Moore as a heavyweight Mopsa is very funny, and has some excellent touches in other roles. Then, returning to Sicilia, Barbara Marten's Hermione comes to life under Kevin Sleep's lighting in a thrillingly beautiful and perfectly placed final scene."  ~ Jeffrey Wainwright, "Trial with a chilling verdict", Independent, 12 February 1990

"The Winter's Tale is Phyllida Lloyd's first production at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, where she recently became Associate Artistic Director. It is disturbingly uneven in pace, and, though full of good ideas, these ideas do not add up to a coherent intererpretation. Gary Yershon's music, from ghetto-blaster to flute, wastes the songs and coarsens the scene endings. The costumes mix frock-coats, leather jackets, elegant gowns, modern summer frocks and peasant clouts. There is no sense of period: this Winter's Tale is set neither in the past nor the present. The clown, Autolycus, is played as a Scottish woman and rides a motorbike. The production begins in a carnival mood. King Leontes invites his friend King Polixenes to prolong his visit, but Polixenes insists on returning to his own kingdom. When Queen Hermione adds her voice to her husband's, Polixenes agrees to stay. Leonates grows jealous, condemns his friend and wife of adultery 'upon surmises', and plots Polixenes's death....This is late Shakespeare at his most challenging, exploring the recovery of innocence and joy. In this production, however, the farcical elements are over played, distorting the themes of marital and parental bonds, estrangements and restorations. Kevin Sleep's vivid lighting is the production's strongest quality. Images of light (the baby Perdita is represented by a light-box, the Delphic Oracle by a glowing cylinder) are stressed. The illumination for the asides and soliloquies, the storm and the dazzling statue scene are memorably contrived."  ~ Michael Schmidt, "Bard on a motor bike", Daily Telegraph, 14 February 1990

Pe People involved in this production