Montague Basement, June 11


Our own period of relative lock-down was but a little crack in time compared with poor Hermione’s. She had 16 years to endlessly press replay in her mind; to fret and ponder how she might have swayed her once-loving husband, Leontes, that she’d not fashioned horns for him with the chief Bohemian, Polixenes. The bile of his misplaced fury and her own assertions of innocence tumble in her mind, amid the horror of the death of her son and loss of her new-born babe.

This could have been the gist of If This Be Nothing, a 35-minute dramatized video stream derived from The Winter’s Tale. Instead the co-creators, actor Lucinda Howes and director Saro Lusty-Cavallari, stitched together snippets of text that have most pertinence to our COVID-19 age, delivered to camera by Howes in a bedroom.

Lucinda Howes. Photo supplied.

The production’s very constraints drive home the isolationist realities, and give Howes’ performance, at its best, a certain intimacy and connection. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to follow narratively. The first 10 minutes, for instance, has Howes, ostensibly as a pregnant Hermione, darting between assorted scenes and characters, beginning with Hermione’s son, Mamillius, flitting to Second Lady to reference her pregnancy, and on to Paulina’s “Here’s ado,/To lock up honesty and honour from/The access of gentle visitors!”. Hermione’s “Force me to keep you as a prisoner,/Not like a guest…” is now said to her unborn child, and Leontes’ gripping “bawdy planet” and his skin-crawling “There may be in the cup/A spider steep’d…” speeches are here, but their impact entirely lost.

No doubt endless hours have gone into crafting this, but the cutting and pasting are too random for a coherent character to emerge, let alone a narrative. Had Hermione been replaying in her mind what she could have done differently, we may have been drawn in more tightly on her sad predicament.

The greatest of Shakespeare’s late-period works then sails from Sicila to Bohemia, where Hermione’s daughter, Perdita, has been hidden since birth. That character’s singular grace, however, is jettisoned in favour of a sex kitten now called Purrdita (also Howes), while sly Autolycus (Jeremi Campese) becomes a game boy. It’s worth a look, but there may have been more to gain by losing less.