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The Winter's Tale (review)
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Judith Dunbar has seen dozens of productions of The Winter's Tale and studied many more. She is the consummate Shakespeare-goer, willing to follow theatre artists anywhere with her keen mind and observant eye. She has enjoyed remarkable access to performances, rehearsals, and to enviable interviews with the foremost theatre artists of the past forty years (Judi Dench is "tape-recorded in her home in London"). It takes a true theatre-lover to embrace the preposterous theatricality of The Winter's Tale, what with its sudden explosions of emotion, its sixteen-year time span, its magical statue scene, and the infamous exit pursued by a bear. Dunbar is unabashed, and relishes the variety of techniques that modern directors, actors, and designers have brought to these challenges.

In her volume for Manchester's Shakespeare in Performance Series, Dunbar discusses eight significant twentieth-century productions of the play. The volume concludes with a chapter by series editor Carol Chillington Rutter comparing eight more "millennial" English productions from the 1990s and early 2000s. Dunbar's work has obvious connections to Dennis Bartholomeusz's 1982 book, The Winter's Tale in Performance in England and America 1611-1976, a work that she acknowledges and intends to augment. Both Bartholomeusz and Dunbar provide substantial descriptions of Harley Granville Barker's 1912 production and Peter Brook's 1951 production. Bartholomeusz's work provides more illustrations, whereas Dunbar draws more heavily from actors' recollections and commentaries. In general, Dunbar seems more interested in the creative process of shaping a production, while Bartholomeusz is more apt to analyze the finished product.

Dunbar is particularly interested in the feminist dimensions of the play, and her introduction does a fine job of aligning the politics of gender with the production history of The Winter's Tale. Two chapters examine productions by women directors: Audrey Stanley's 1975 production at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival, and Jane Howell's televised production for the BBC in 1980. Stanley's production, the first Shakespeare play directed by a woman at Ashland, was deeply rooted in ritual, with a Jungian sense of male and female forces fulfilling each other. Dunbar's beautiful description of Stanley's climactic statue scene gives the reader shivers. The analysis of Howell's BBC production is perhaps overly concerned with camera angles and shot composition, although the discussion of Howell's deliberate rejection of naturalistic design is interesting. The chapter concludes by citing Howell's own dissatisfaction with the finished product, which makes one wonder why Dunbar has included this rendering of the play, given the profusion of stage productions to choose from.

Dunbar writes movingly of her extended acquaintance with Trevor Nunn's highly stylized production of The Winter's Tale for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), which she recalls seeing "in some dozen performances" from 1969-1971. She reflects thoughtfully on her memories of the production, noting in hindsight how Nunn's production captured its historical and cultural moment. Set in a "white box" designed by Christopher Morley, and inspired by Peter Brook's The Empty Space, Nunn's production explored the creative potential of an individual to generate his own world. Throughout the book, Dunbar surveys how different actors and directors have motivated Leontes's jealousy, and she provides striking descriptions of Nunn's expressionistic design choices to frame Barrie Ingham's emotional performance. Nearly two decades later, Tim Piggott-Smith played the role in Peter Hall's 1988 production of The Winter's Tale for the National Theatre, and Dunbar had access to several weeks of their rehearsals. Their controversial production took a much darker view of the rupture and trauma Leontes wreaks on his kingdom and family. Hall's final scene staged a mistrustful distance between Leontes and Hermione, and reiterated the need for healing. Dunbar observed the production over time, and describes the subtle changes that the actors developed in response to the audience's evident desire for reconciliation.

Dunbar also provides fascinating accounts of two international productions of The Winter's Tale: the first by Ingmar Bergman at the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden in 1994, and the second by Declan Donnellan for the Maly Drama Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1997...

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