Renegade’s production of The Winter’s Tale was very dramaturgically playful, my favourite way to do Shakespeare. It opened intensely in media res, with Antigonus (I think Adisa Moruf Adeyimi, although he’s just credited as “Sicilian lord”) and baby Oluola (Perdita, Oluwatoyin Alli-Hakeem) on the coast of Bohemia.
He was chased and killed by robbers – not a bear – another example of Renegade’s unabashed willingness to rewrite the play but also a disappointing one, considering, you know, BEAR.
Perdita was found by the shepherds and the second act continued. The sheep-shearing was replaced by a hunting festival, which was an excuse for some tremendous dancing and some tall Dr. Seuss-style pillars with people inside that I don’t know what they were doing in there, but they were great. (This is absolutely me revealing my ignorance, for the record – I believe these have some cultural significance but I’ve got no idea what it is.)
All photos (c) Simon Annand
A dramaturgically helpful aspect of the production was how Ogun (Polixenes, Olarotimi Fakunle) was really really hot. For all that he gets a lot of stage time, Polixenes doesn’t have that much depth, playing “wrongly accused friend” in the first half and “overbearing father” in the second half, so it’s nice that he was super good looking. In Yoruba mythology Ogun is related to war, hunting and iron; he is also part of a love triangle with Oya and Shango. As I’ve done more reading on Yoruba I appreciate how rich and layered the re-envisioning was.
Ikoko (Autolycus, Adekunle Smart Adejumo) was brilliant. She surpassed androgyny into conscious genderbending. Many trickster figures play with gender but they are nearly all men foraying into femaleness; it was a delight to see a woman playing with and owning masculinity for her own ends.
I’m intrigued (and pleased) that two of Shakespeare’s most one-dimensional trickster characters, Autolycus and Thersites, as well as the clown Feste, were performed by women as women in Globe to Globe. I wonder if that means women playing with masculinity is easier than men playing with femininity, or whether the characters’ lack of solid gender coding means it is easier to slot an actress into the part for directors keen to break the male chokehold on Shakespearean majorities. Either way, it’s been an interesting, unexpected theme.
The production also didn’t shy away from Ikoko’s cons. She certainly didn’t sell anything; every time she appeared on stage she was either cheerfully and amorally monologuing to the audience, or trying to scare money out of people. When Adeagbo (Camillo, Olasunkanmi Adebayo) suggested she and Folawewo (Florizel, Joshua Ademola Alabi – who doubled as Mamilius) switch clothes, she set up a low, steady grumble until her payoff arrived.
She was partnered by Time (Motunrayo Orobiyi), who was a sort of caller/narrator hovering on the balcony or at the sides of the stage.
Due to the switch I thought the interval might come after a dramatic point in the second half (‘Bohemian half’?) of the play, but as Adeagbo turned to Folawewo and Oluola to explain his exile, it went straight into the first half of the story, in Shango (Leontes, Olawale Adebayo) and Oya (Hermione, Kehinde Bankole)’s court.
The somewhat radical reimagining of the characters as Yoruba gods and goddesses was much stronger here, and from my Western-raised perspective gave Shango’s court an Olympian feel, which made many of his and Ogun’s actions make a bit more sense. Jealous gods heat up and cool down more quickly than jealous humans do, and gods’ sons may be told off for consorting with mortal women.
AND THE ENDING.
OK, I am not usually a theatre crier at the right times. I have cried at the character of Sir Eglamour in Two Gentlemen of Verona because he has some particularly beautiful lines about how nice the weather is, and it was a lovely production. Desdemona’s and Hamlet’s deaths, on the other hand, usually get a big meh from me. They’re compelling, but don’t inspire wet-face feelings.
I CRIED BUCKETS at the end of The Winter’s Tale. Renegade fucked around with the text in the most brilliant, awful, heartbreaking way.
Now, I am no great fan of Leontes, but the impression in the final act is that he has genuinely grown and learned as a result of his actions 16 years before.
He’s never going to qualify for any World’s Best Husband awards, but he’s made great mistakes and greatly overcome them.
So don’t have Hermione turn back into a woman at the end. Fine. He’s erred, the consequences of his actions are permanent, OK.
The absolute worst way to play it is for Hermione to visibly re-inhabit her humanity, to have her joyfully reunite with Perdita, with Leontes witnessing their happy reunion, and while he’s turned around talking to the audience, stunned, happy and in a near state of grace, take her away and say “Whoops, she’s turned into the spirit of the wind* now so you don’t get to see her ever again.”
AND THEY CAME BACK ON STAGE AND EXPECTED US TO APPLAUD. Which I did, wildly. Through my SHEETS OF TEARS.
FUCK YOU. THAT WAS BRILLIANT. FUCK YOU.
*Hermione corresponded to Oya, who is indeed the spirit of the wind and sudden changes.
I saw Globe to Globe’s The Winter’s Tale at Shakespeare’s Globe on May 25, 2012.