1970's The Winter's Tale

Read about the 1970's version of The Witner's Tale featuring Sir Ian McKellen

John Barton's The Winter's Tale set (1976) by Joe Cocks Studio Collection (c) Shakespeare Birthplace TrustRoyal Shakespeare Company


John Barton’s heavily cut production was co-directed with Trevor Nunn and transposed the drama to Lapland, which allowed an interpretation focused on storytelling and ritual. Critics were less than enthusiastic about the production and criticised the lack of contrast between Sicilia and Bohemia.  

Di Seymour designed a set featuring “a panoramic screen of diagrammatic folk images …laced through the timber uprights, encircling the stage and lit either coldly from the front or warmly from behind; and, centre stage, like a frozen flash of lightning, stands a withered tree” Irving Wardle, The Times, 4 June 1976.  

Ian McKellen as Leontes (1976) by Joe Cocks Studio Collection (c) Shakespeare Birthplace TrustRoyal Shakespeare Company

Sir Ian McKellen on the role of King Leontes, (2003)

"Leontes is a neglected great part because it appears, like The Winter's Tale itself, to be broken-backed. The first three acts belong to King Leontes as he is overtaken by jealousy and accuses his best friend of cuckolding him. Hermione is his perfect wife but all is lost on the half-mad husband. His son dies, his wife too, it seems, and he has his own baby thrown out into the wilds, his closest advisor too.

All this action with Shakespeare's toughest most complicated jazzy verse, which is almost impossible to dissect in the study or the rehearsal room but which rolls off the tongue and makes a dreadful sense as it reveals the curdled emotions of a mind gone wrong: "There may be in the cup a spider steep'd etc."   

John Barton, my old mentor, directed these scenes very helpfully. He wasn't scared to cut what he felt were over-dense lines, and supported my idea that Leontes was a soldierly type ruling Sicilia as a one-party state. This was at odds with the rather fey fairytale costumes and unspecific Scandinavian settings which had been agreed on by the directorial triumvirate of Barton, Barry Kyle and Trevor Nunn."

Follow here to continue exploring a history of The RSC and The Winter's Tale, 1980s.

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