Director Gregory Doran makes Leontes' court a repressive world where jealousy can thrive. The design suggests a turn-of-the-century world among the crowned heads of Europe. "It's a world of etiquette and decorum, a tightly corseted, restricting place. " But in contrast, he is keen to avoid pastoral whimsy in the Bohemia scenes. "It's not a bucolic idyll peopled with traditional shepherds, but more like a sheep farm in the Australian outback."
Doran has abandoned his first idea that King Leontes and the low-life Autolycus might be doubled, with the chameleon-like Antony Sher playing both roles. But he still finds the contrast illuminating. "Autolycus is everything that Leontes is not. He represents appetite, sexual liberty, anarchy. Leontes stands for repression, order and a stifling sense of propriety."
Sher's Leontes promises to be another landmark in this remarkable actor's career going beyond the fireworks and virtuoso performances he can deliver so impressively. Doran says "His interest and mine is in emotional truth, in giving a portrait of a man imploding."
To find that emotional truth, Doran and Sher have discovered that "the play has psychological reality in its astonishingly accurate portrayal of jealousy. "
Doran's production will present teachers with an unmissable opportunity to introduce students to the pathetic fallacy: the natural world responding to and reflecting the passions of the human world. "We make a great deal of the sky. Throughout the production it acts as a barometer, recording the psychological temperature of the play."
And make sure your students watch out for the bear. It will be huge, it appears and disappears very rapidly, but it will be very effective.
Previews at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon this month, opens on January 6, 1999. tickets: 01789 295623.