Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's THE WINTER'S TALE at the Garrick (#NTLive)

It's very hard for me to critique a show that is written by an actual legend and considering William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest playwright in history, I can't exactly sit here and start arguing with his original text. What I can talk about though are the artistic choices made for this revival of The Winter's Tale, a relatively lesser-known Shakespeare play, and the affects that those choices had upon me.

My friend Chaya and I made a New Year's Resolution between the two of us to try our hardest to catch every single play in the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick this year, but considering The Winter's Tale sold out pretty immediately due to both Dame Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh himself starring in the production, we decided to take a look at the encore #NTLive screening yesterevening instead along with my good friend Em (from OhMyMusicals) and found my feelings leaving the theatre cinema to be incredibly mixed: I felt very happy with the majority of the artistic choices that were made with the production (and with Kenneth Branagh at the helm, why wouldn't I be), but I felt incredibly underwhelmed regarding the hype and hysteria surrounding this "landmark revival" that I'd been hearing about on the theatre scene. 

I think my main problem with The Winter's Tale was that the story is reasonably dry, which probably explains why the show is produced significantly less than Shakespeare's main classics like Much Ado and Othello; the story basically follows a man who accuses his wife of adultery, which in turn kills loads of people in shock or forces them to move away all before returning after 16 years and culminating in a happily ever after... is that even right? I found myself so lost in the Shakespearean language used that, as funny as it may sound, sounded so Shakespearean that it almost felt like a language parody. Though it was wonderful to see the original text being performed, I truly felt so lost at times due to the complex language and the lack of any real precise direction to help the audience with the ludicrous lexis they were reciting. As well as this, I also found it very underwhelming as a newcomer to the play to see that Judi Dench's character was one that isn't used in the play very much at all. Of course this play was not written with the intent of having a very popular actor playing the role, but I found the difference between what the advertising campaign suggests and what the play portrays to be very surprising.

It was the sublime performances though that really sold this production to me as something worth my £13 and three hours of my time. Kenneth Branagh was a true standout and in addition to his typically incredible performance that you can tell he has truly thrown himself into, you really got the vibe that he was loving what he was doing even through the cinema screen; Branagh is clearly very proud of what he has brought together both in The Winter's Tale and this year at the Garrick in general, and that radiates throughout his performance. Dame Judi Dench was of course a highlight as well with some wonderful comedic moments too - it's always a joy to see Miss Dench ooze class whenever she performs. Other standout performances included City of Angels alum Hadley Fraser who continued to give a solid and complex portrayal throughout.

As I said before, I'm seeing every single play in the Kenneth Branagh season this year (on my own accord) so expect to see reviews for each show in the season periodically throughout the year on this blog. If you've seen The Winter's Tale then tweet me @shaunycat or @smusicalmusings to let me know what you thought!

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