Less than three weeks after its London premiere, The Winter's Tale was streamed live from Covent Garden to 29 countries on Monday night. Shakespeare's complex tapestry of tragedy, comedy, time slips and fantastical incidents has never been made into a ballet before - could the combined talents of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, composer Joby Talbot and designer Bob Crowley weave the tricky narrative, fraught emotional subtext and themes of division and redemption into a viable work for the Royal Ballet?
If that famous "exit pursued by a bear" moment is a little fudged, and some of the storm-tossed back projections billow overmuch, such petty carping dissolves in the face of what is so sublimely realised in three winningly different acts. The first, set in Sicilia, centres on the irrational jealousy that sees Leontes (Edward Watson) accuse his pregnant queen (Lauren Cuthbertson) of infidelity with his best friend. Thanks to camera close-ups, cinema audiences can see Watson's very pores sweat with the poisoned thinking that contorts his every maddened limb.
Act Two: springtime in Bohemia where Talbot's atmospheric score is lush with Asian folk-lore influences that Crowley's vibrantly coloured designs echo under a vast, fabulously bedecked tree. Here, the young Perdita (a dainty Sarah Lamb) frolics with Florizel (the buoyantly agile Steven McRae) unaware that he's a prince, or that she's the discarded daughter of Leontes. This act is sheer bliss for eye and ear, full of frisky ensembles and love-knot duets for Lamb and McRae. Act Three, where loose ends come together, is in the main a slow pas-de-deux where Cuthberston's grace twines forgiving arms round harrowed Watson, though perhaps it's Zenaida Yanowsky's Paulina who finally claims our tears with her resolute compassion.