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BWW Review: THE ROYAL BALLET - THE WINTER'S TALE, Royal Opera HouseThe second opportunity for online audiences to enjoy some Royal Ballet repertoire over lockdown is Christopher Wheeldon's adaptation of The Winter's Tale. First premiering in 2014, it has proved popular with ballet fans and has subsequently been programmed in 2016 (this recording) and 2018.

This fine-tuned performance offers plenty of opportunity to reminisce with some luxury casting and Principals aplenty, including the now-retired Zenaida Yanowsky as Paulina (Head of the Queen - Lauren Cuthbertson's - Household) and, as as Florizel, Steven McRae, whose extended absence due to a string of injuries has meant he is much missed.

The Winter's Tale is not a story that lends itself naturally to ballet, but Wheeldon's clarity of storytelling here makes it easy to get swept away in the sombre, muted colours of life at Sicilia and the contrasting vibrant and uplifting frivolities in Bohemia. Edward Watson commits fully as the tormented, anguished Leontes, King of Sicilia, convincing himself of his wife's infidelity. He cuts an isolated figure who is ably propped up by Yanowsky's commanding Paulina, an expressive actress who pours her heart into allowing the Royal household to keep running. Cuthbertson's Hermione is a layered character who plays two roles, early on: one of a regal but elegant surveyor of her Kingdom, then a stoic and dignified wife who must prove her innocence.

Act Two sees a gear change to the contrasting Kingdom of Bohemia 16 years later. Bob Crowley's wonderful designs match the fresh, carefree atmosphere evoked from Perdita (Sarah Lamb), the abandoned daughter of the King and Queen, and Florizel, son of Polixenes, King of Bohemia, who falls for the apparently humble shepherdess. Central to the stage is a giant oak tree, adorned with golden accoutrements, while Joby Talbot's joyful score offers some happy duets for the young lovers, as live musicians inhabit the back of the stage - all culminating to create the authentic feeling of a springtime festival.

Lamb's natural dainty poise makes her a natural casting for this youthful role, and in family resemblance with her mother Hermione - the two both displaying a gentle elegance and delicacy in their respective roles.

The final scenes of reconciliation in Act Three are touching and engrossing as the action returns to the darkly atmospheric Kingdom of Sicilia. Yanowsky's Paulina burns with sincerity as a now remorseful Leontes mourns his wife and child, making for a powerful conclusion.

Wheeldon's knack for creativity and storytelling is showcased beautifully for a satisfying evening of dance. Shakespeare's story offers multiple opportunities for standout performances, whilst Talbot's score allows the choreography to flow, as well as creating effective moments of intense drama.

The Winter's Tale is available on YouTube for a limited time.

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From This Author Vikki Jane Vile