Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 14 October 2018
It’s definitely back to basics at the Globe Theatre in Blanche McIntyre’s excellent stripped down and beautifully spoken production of The Winter’s Tale. After a bit of a slow start, the production settles into a lively pace, with some fine comedy being teased out of the difficult first half.
The contrast between the court of Sicilia and Bohemia is established immediately through the Arabic costuming of former (a nod to the Moorish Sicily of the story’s original context). Later we see the modernity of Bohemia. It is a simple production device making the narrative clearer to audience members less familiar with the play.
Will Keen gives a macho and almost hyperactive turn as Leontes, King of Sicilia. He erupts in thunderous paranoid rage when he suspects his queen, Hermonie, (a beautifully poised Priyanga Burford) of adultery. And he accuses his long-time friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia – a wonderful linen-suited Oliver Ryan who speaks the text exquisitely in a lyrical Welsh brogue.
Leontes, who believes his wife to be pregnant with Polixenes’ child, engages the noble Camillio (an imperious Adrian Bower) to poison his rival, who instead warns the King and they both flee to Bohemia. The now incandescent Leontes presently condemns his wife, ignores the soothsaying Oracle, and banishes his new born daughter to an almost certain death.
In a particularly chilling scene, Leontes stands with his foot raised over the helpless infant’s head, about to crush his daughter’s skull with his heel. When news arrives of the death of their son Mamillius (a delightfully impish Rose Wardlaw) Hermonie faints and Leontes is told of her death. He then repents his folly and vows to spend the rest of his life in mourning.
It’s the second half when the production really kicks into gear with verve, energy and plenty of comic moments drawing gales of mirth from the groundlings in the pit. Sixteen years have passed and Leontes’ daughter Perdita (an excellent Norah Lopez-Holden), raised by a shepherd’s family, falls for Polixenes’ son Florizel (a lively Luke MacGregor).
Threatened with torture by Polixenes the pair, with the help of Camillio, set sail for Sicilia.
A witty and energetic turn from Becci Gemmell, as Auolycus, threatens to run away with the entire second half of the production.
At one point she is seen waving from the pit at low flying helicopter, cleverly drawing the incidental into the aesthetic.
My only micro gripe about McIntyre’s fine production is the famous bear scene.
Some Shakespeare scholars would have us believe that they used a real bear for this scene – bear baiting pits in Jacobean times was, apparently, as common as sushi-bars on today’s Bankside.
I’m not suggesting they use a real animal but (without raising any spoiler alerts) I felt she could have approached this with a little more imagination and invention.
Nevertheless, this is a superb and brilliantly performed production of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ play.
If you know the Globe, this Winter’s Tale is a terrific summer show – if you don’t know the venue – then what an introduction!
The Winter’s Tale runs in rep at The Globe until October 14.
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