King Leontes (Edward Watson)
Happiness reigns until King Leontes of Sicilia, in a jealous fit, accuses wife Hermoine of having an affair with friend, King Polixenes, and that their newly born child is not his. Their eight year old child, Mamillius, witnesses his mother’s distress and, already ill, collapses and dies. Hermione, the loss of her son too much to bear, also collapses and dies, and only then does Leontes - having in his rage also banished his baby daughter - realise the disastrous consequences of his mistake. Edward Watson's immense portrayal of his character's descent into a tormented, paranoid soul is illuminated by Wheeldon's tortured, contorted and twisted choreography.
The noblewoman (I thought nursemaid) Paulina, is the emotional heart of the piece for me – the one constant in Leontes life, it was her anguish that sent me over the edge. Not only did she lose Hermione, Mamillius and the baby princess, it was her husband, Antigonus, who Leontes sent to abandon the baby girl: he was eaten by a bear [Exit, pursued by a bear]. But before that happened, he left in the cradle a beautiful emerald that had belonged to Hermione ...
That was just Act One. You had to have had a heart of stone if you weren’t blubbing by then. Stone, I tell you. Which, in the Opera House itself would’ve been ok, but the Imax at Bluewater? Not so much ...
Perdita (Sarah Lamb) and Florizel (Steven McRae)
The intensity of the first part gives way to the delicate joy of the next, as the baby princess, found by shepherds, grows up as Perdita and falls in love with a disguised Prince Florizel – son of Polixenes! Against the backdrop of a beautiful bejewelled tree, their courtship is pure wonderment. A sense of Irish & folk dancing imbues the piece with magic; the ensemble and music hints of Riverdance and I marvel again that ballet can draw from so many genres and yet still retain its own essence. Perdita is crowned May Queen and her adopted father presents her with Hermione’s emerald. But – you knew it was coming – Polixenes is unhappy with the relationship, and condemns Perdita and her family to death. They, and Florizel, flee to Sicilia.
Wistful longing and sense of loss pervades the opening of Act 3, as Leontes, supported by Paulinha mourns at the clifftop graves of his wife and child. When Florizel and Perdita arrive they appeal to the King for help and he agrees, remonstrating with Polixenes upon his arrival. In a moment of violence, Polixenes manhandles Perdita, revealing the emerald and her true identity.
Fathers and children are reunited and celebrate the marriage of Perdita and Florizel. Wedding festivities at an end, Paulinha leads Leontes to a new statue of Hermione but, suddenly, the statue comes to life. Hermione is alive, hidden by Paulinha for 16 years. An exquisite final act, and I haven't been so choked up since Les Mis – thanks, ROH Bridge!
Shakespeare’s comedy?tragedy?late romance was screened live from the ROH on Monday, April 28th, and shown in 29 countries. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and with music by Joby Talbot, we were treated during the intervals to interviews and behind the scenes glimpse of the processes involved. The audience reaction was captured on social media and posted online, where yet more plaudits were added in the comments section – read it all here.
The Live Cinema Season continues with Manon Lescaut on Tuesday, June 24th – visit the website here for the full programme. Seeing a ballet on a cinema screen is not quite being there, but it comes damn close so check out your local listings.
Post script: There wasn't a press photo available for Zanaida Yenowsky (Paulinha) but it was the desolation and sorrow in her performance that captured me most. Spooky then, that wandering around the National Gallery the next day, I found her in Da Vinci's pencil sketch. Really. Look at the photo below and then click here.