Like going out at the interval of King Lear and returning to see the final act of Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare’s split personality play defies expectations and conventions. Sicilian King Leontes, consumed by unfounded jealousy at his Queen Hermione’s supposed infidelity, embarks on a path that takes him to the very brink of self destruction, whereupon he finds redemption and reconciliation. The play contrives a mythical world in which logic has yet to be invented and, if it succeeds in casting its spell, it is mainly because of the genius of the Bard’s writing, but an impeccable production that provides all the delicate touches required helps greatly. This sumptuous revival, directed by Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh, does the job perfectly. Christopher Oram’s set and costume designs are not over-elaborate, but they evoke a distinct feel of a chilly Victorian Christmas, melting into a sunny Spring, understanding that this is a production in which nothing needs to distract too much from the text and the acting. Branagh finds Leontes’ demented fury and his whimpering contrition well within his range, Miranda Raison is a bewitching Hermione, Tom Bateman and Jessie Buckley are enchanting as the young lovers Florizel and Perdita and formidable support from the likes of Michael Pennington, John Shrapnell, Hadley Fraser and John Dalgleish ensures a depth of quality unlikely to be surpassed anywhere. This is a delicious cake but it has a very rich icing – the warm performance of Judi Dench in the prominent role of Paulina, custodian of the banished Hermione and go-between with Leontes. If this is to be her final West End appearance, it will have been in a production well worthy of her.
Performance date: 2 December 2015