By: Oh Jen Jen
This transatlantic joint venture has already received ample press coverage, but speaking as a Kevin Spacey devotee, I was nothing short of ecstatic upon learning that Singapore would be the only Asian stop on its world tour.
The Winter’s Tale is, in my opinion at least, an unconventional choice for a production of this scale. It is one of Shakespeare’s more obscure works and hence, runs the risk of drawing only small audiences. There were rumours of poor ticket sales here, but the impressive turnout on opening night helped disprove such reports.
As I took my 5th row centre seat, I tried not to let my expectations get the better of me. While I am certain that many were eager to see Ethan Hawke, I looked forward most to watching Rebecca Hall, and not because of her recent turn in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (which I haven’t seen ). Rather, I enjoyed her performance in a little-known British romantic comedy, Starter For 10, co-starring James McAvoy (who later took lead roles in Atonement and Wanted ).
The entire play lasted a whopping 2.5 hours, excluding intermission. While the first half is tragic, the story lightens up progressively, culminating in a joyous finale.
There is no denying the exquisiteness of this production, from its stylishly illuminated sets to the sleek costume designs. Even the moody background music – which I initially thought was pre-recorded – turned out to be played by actual musicians perched in balconies on both sides of the theatre.
The Winter’s Tale is estimated to have been written around 1610-11. However, director Sam Mendes chose to depict it differently, opting for dark wardrobes more befitting the 1800s for the tragic bits, then switching to bright early-1900s hillbilly garb for the comedic scenes. I have no idea whether anyone in the audience noticed the discrepancy, but I thought it added an interesting twist to an otherwise straightforward period piece.
Performance-wise, the entire cast deserves accolades, but of course, the various leads naturally stand out.
Rebecca Hall makes a perfect Hermione with her statuesque form and impassioned delivery, highlighted during the tense courtroom exchange where Hermione asserts her innocence and implores her husband to believe her.
Simon Russell Beale, who could easily pass for Kenneth Branagh’s older brother, infuses Leontes with the requisite paranoia and rage, yet also demonstrates occasional moments of nervous humour, nuances that did not go unnoticed by the tittering audience.
Special mention goes to Tobias Segal, listed as Young Shepherd in the programme, but as Clown / Shepherd’s Son in the original play. His shrill and high-strung antics had everyone in stitches, and Segal is my pick for Breakout Performance.
Ethan Hawke, featured prominently as the star of this ensemble, did not disappoint with his cheeky turn as the roguish Autolycus. Strutting around barefoot while singing and plucking at a guitar, he clearly stole the show, as evidenced by the way the audience uniformly sat up when he appeared on-stage. The role is an ostentatious one, but not ideal for showcasing acting chops. Hence, while Hawke delighted with his hijinks, I couldn’t help wondering if he could have been better utilized by playing a more dramatic part.
The mixture of accents offers an exotic flavour, since it’s rare to hear Shakespeare spoken in a pure American twang, much less stirred so thoroughly with its British counterpart. I found it a little distracting at first, but eventually realized that it merely illustrated the ingenious flexibility of the play itself, effectively smashing long-held preconceptions about how Shakespeare must or should be interpreted.
The only suggestion I’d like to make is that The Bridge Project choose more familiar plays should they decide to stage a Shakespearean production again. Perhaps Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant Of Venice, The Taming Of The Shrew, or even Romeo And Juliet?
I say this because I think Singaporeans ( and quite possibly international audiences as well ) will respond much better to material they’re familiar with, since there were signs that those attending the opening night performance didn’t know the plot beforehand. This made for a relatively sedate evening, topped off with only one curtain call and no standing ovation. I’m told by friends who were there Sunday night that the crowd was much more enthusiastic, though I am of course unable to determine the exact reason for this disparity.
My greatest wish, however, is to see the incomparable Kevin Spacey himself gracing our Esplanade stage one day.