Dench's Withering Stare Goes Global in Branagh's 'Winter's Tale'

Reuters, 24 November 2015
By Michael Roddy
Thanks, Jane

Her cutting words were written by William Shakespeare, but the withering stare the straight-talking Paulina focuses on co-star Kenneth Branagh's insanely jealous King Leontes in a new production of "The Winter's Tale" is pure Judi Dench.

Dench's stare, at the end of the first half, has had audiences sitting on the edge of their seats since the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's late-life portrait of the wreckage wrought by jealousy opened this month.

It is a "moment I shall long remember," Guardian critic Michael Billington wrote.

The play will be broadcast live to cinemas in Britain and Europe on Thursday, with a delayed broadcast to the United States on Monday. It will be seen in Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, China and Japan in January, publicists said.

"We're excited, there's a lot of excitement in the building about this live broadcast," Branagh, 54, told Reuters in an interview at the 710-seat Garrick Theatre where his company is in residence for six productions this year and next.

One of them will be "Romeo and Juliet" starring Lily James and Richard Madden, who played Cinderella and her Prince in the Branagh-directed remake of the Disney animated classic.

The Belfast-born Branagh says it is not so difficult as it might appear to make the transition between the movie world, where he also directed the action adventure "Thor" and filmed versions of Shakespeare, to the stage.

In the movies, he said, when a director heads to the set he may see 15 key people in one room, 200 in another and a cast and support crew of 4,000. But, he said, "You can find a human center to it all ... whether it's in front of a big bunch of people or in a much smaller environment."

That said, he acknowledged that the talent he is able to draw to the Garrick, including the likes of 80-year-old Dench, owes much to his long association with the London stage, dating back to the 1980s when he was a huge hit in Shakespeare's "Henry V".

He attributes his ability to enlist Dench, and the way she plays the part of the hectoring but ultimately forgiving Paulina, to "a 30-year conversation," off and on, with her.

"Judi Dench both provides that emotional trigger, and has the mastery of the language, so it's the most comprehensive demolition of a foolish human being that one might imagine," Branagh said of the scene in which she berates Leontes for the jealous rage that has provoked his son's death, caused his wife to fall into a death swoon and made him banish his newborn daughter to be left in the wilderness, to be eaten by wolves.

"When it's ... embodied by someone like Judi Dench you know you have a wonderful piece of dramatic writing embodied by a great performer and you hit the jackpot."

Director Ben Caron will use seven cameras to broadcast the show from what he regards as an ideal place to film a psychological play because the Garrick is small and intimate.

"Our challenge is to give the audience in the cinema a feeling of being in the theater, but also give them that bit extra - that's the sort of fine balance," he said.

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