Le Conte d’hiver (The Winter’s Tale), translated by Daniel Loayza, directed by Patrick Pineau, La Coursive, Scène nationale, La Rochelle, France, 13 November 2013, right stalls; Béziers Ouest, Béziers, France, 21 mars, centre stalls.
Review by Stéphanie Mercier (Poitiers university)
Patrick Pineau’s production of Daniel Loayza’s unpublished translation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale made its debut on the Scène nationale de Sénart, on the outskirts of Paris, in early November 2013, just in time for the holiday season. In what often seems more of a ‘Christmas’ tale than a ‘Winter’s’ tale, Pineau’s objective to convey the bitter-sweet nature of Leontes’ (Manuel Le Lièvre) inexplicable descent into jealous folly and subsequent ‘recreation’ (3.2.238) results in a tongue-in-cheek version of the play. This, as the director pulls Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy into the realm of meta-theatre – and, by so doing, transforms it into a self-conscious statement about the artificiality at work in the Magic Kingdom of live arts.
The play opens in Sicily in a gothic black and red décor with four CCTV screens encased in a frame of painted lion’s jaws and two men-in-waiting dressed as mobsters backstage – what might be termed as Leontesland. On screen, Mamillius (Darius Caron), who remains a cinematographic figment of our imagination throughout, plays in grounds equipped with surveillance material – to highlight the obsessive nature of Leontes’ mind. Front stage Leontes and Polixenes (Babacar M’Baye Fall) tussle in a bare-chested wrestling match that immediately establishes Polixenes’ physical superiority and pinpoints Leontes’ inferiority complex. Hermione (Laurence Cordier), in a soft pink Empire-waisted dress that accentuates her heavily pregnant belly, helps Polixenes to button his shirt after the match before both walk out to the screened grounds into a blind spot behind a tree and Leontes is left alone as the lion’s jaws darken in an outer projection of his inner jealousy. Camillo (Nicolas Bonnefoy) next flees, on film with Polixenes, and, just before Hermione’s arrest and imprisonment, she herself is filmed with Mamillius in an ultimate hug whilst disturbing music reflects how the king’s fixation is playing havoc with traditional family values. Paulina (Aline Le Berre), ‘masterly’ (5.3.65), cross-dressed in men’s clothing and with short-cropped hair, next logically confronts Leontes who is swathed in a white sheet, which gives him a cockeyed Caesar-like appearance and is a costumed nod to his megalomaniac delusions. He is only brought down a peg or two in the trial scene by his son’s death and his queen’s apparent demise, announced by Paulina, who has now earned the legitimacy to throw the king literally to the ground and make him take up the ‘faith’ (5.3.95) that will serve as his subsequent entertainment.
In a comparable scenic transition that marks the passage from tragic to comic amusement, the devouring of Antigonus (Marc Jeancourt) is described by the Shepherd’s son (Christophe Vandevelde) and suggested visually by not one, but three, bears who seem to amble onstage from a pantomime of Goldilocks. This, before Perdita (Pauline Collin) is found (3.3.67) in the Adventureland of Bohemia by the Shepherd (Alain Enjary). Indeed, the audience doubletakes from now on as Perdita wears an identical dress to her mother’s in the first half of the action and Florizel (William Edimo) predictably reminds us of his father. Moreover, the actor who played Antigonus doubles as transvestite Mopsa whilst the actress who plays Paulina multitasks as Dorca, and Autolycus (Fabien Orcier), barely disguised in a false beard, entertainingly cozens them both with his fictitious ballads. The ageing Polixenes vainly threatens to punish Perdita and Florizel for the ignorance that once cost him so much, before the young couple conspire to escape with Camillo in a plot reversal – or rather a dramatic pattern that seemingly repeats itself (IV.4.470-590). The shepherds then make a getaway with Autolycus and with the ‘fardel’ that is the proof of Perdita’s noble lineage – hence the production evolves, and revolves, so that what was lost may be found again.
Back in Sicily, Autolycus breaks the joyful news that is simultaneously retransmitted on the screens via a channel appropriately christened ‘King TV’ with wedding bells in the background to turn the CCTV concept on its head. Hermione disconcertingly walks to the pedestal where she is to be a statue behind two plastic panels: the lions’ jaws have become a starred circle reminiscent of the iconic loop that surrounds the Metro Goldwin Mayer symbol – Leo the Lion – which usually arbours the motto ‘Ars gratia artis’ (‘Art for Art’s Sake’). Autolycus and the shepherds irreverently take photos as Paulina draws back the panels, and, as Hermione comes back to life, the stars revolve, music plays and confetti invades the set. In a Fantasyland, or no questions asked, ending, the group poses for a snapshot before leaving the stage. However, as the lights go down again, credits scroll up the screen against footage of a laughing Mamillius racing around the grounds with his joyful father in pursuit – an equally ‘once upon a time’ happy family portrait. In this respect, perhaps the final, and more profound, message of what is overall an acidly humorous staging of the play is that of the art of play-acting, not for art’s sake, but for the sake of posterity.
Read a full-length version of this review in Cahiers Élisabéthains 85 (spring 2014).
Stéphanie Mercier is an agrégée French and English bi-national who teaches at the Université de Poitiers (France). She is currently working on a thesis on the Commodification of the Body in Shakespeare’s Theatre and reviews regularly for L’Oeil du Spectateur, the Cahiers Shakespeare en Devenir supplement on the Poitiers University website (https://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr/). Contact details: (email@example.com)