I was lucky enough to catch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring version of The Winter’s Tale yesterday at The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.
In memory of Roger Ebert, I’d give it a big thumbs up. The last time I saw the RSC was in Stratford several years ago and at the time I was particularly aware that I was watching a different level of theatrical production to that which I normally saw. The attention to detail beyond what was going on in the foregrounded action was faultless (for example, the actions of the revellers at the Capulets’ party as Romeo and Juliet see each other for the first time.) I also remember the trip to Stratford well for getting my picture taken with a man-sized teddy bear dressed as a guardsman outside a teddy bear shop; such is the birthplace of Shakespeare to one of my mentality.
But back to The Winter’s Tale in Edinburgh yesterday; the aforementioned attention to detail was once again evidenced in the elaborate clog-dancing scenes (Bohemia is relocated to the industrial north of England) and the simple, uncluttered set design of William Dudley. We were also reminded that the RSC know exactly how to say the language of Shakespeare, not as common a skill of professional theatre companies as one would expect.
All the acting was exemplary, not just that of the principals, it would be invidious to single out anyone for praise…but Rakie Ayola as Paulina, Tara Fitzgerald as Hermione (both making their RCS debuts) and and Jo Stone-Fewings as Leontes were all outstanding – so at least I didn’t single out anyone…
The Festival Theatre is an interesting place in itself, the history of which is effectively told throughout the public areas of the building with press cuttings, old showbills and so forth. Its fame lies mostly in having been a variety theatre in the twentieth century, but it also hosted the first commercial, public film show in Scotland back in 1895, a fact commemorated by a Scottish Screen plaque in the foyer (just to the left of the lift entrance on the ground floor.) So it’s quite fitting that the theatre is now used regularly by the Edinburgh Film Festival including some of the red carpet events.