The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare's Globe, London, UK.
I know what runs through your mind when someone
mentions The Winter’s Tale, the first thing that you think: Exit, pursued by a
bear. Well OK, so maybe it’s the second thing you think. But after
you’ve hummed a few bars of the song whose name I will not mention, you
do get to thinking about bears. ‘A bear?’ you say to yourself. ‘How the
devil will they do that?’ Well, I’m not telling you. Go find out for
Truth be told, I’ve always felt slightly cheated by this play. We are
not allowed to witness the scene we have been waiting to see throughout
the whole play – the moment when Leontes and Perdita discover that they
are father and daughter. Instead we have to experience this precious
moment second-hand, which is not at all the same thing, rich though it
may be in the telling. It is true that we are treated to the climactic
following scene where we learn Hermione’s secret, but even then nothing
is really explained and full resolution never reached. I always come
away feeling emotionally short-changed and dramatically cheated. So it
was with some trepidation that I arrived at the Shakespeare’s Globe
performance of this perfidious tragicomedy.
From the first appearance onstage of Leontes and Polixenes the
atmosphere of this piece is established as one of measured energy and
strong, even-paced passions. The characters, at various times, are
angry, jealous, despairing - and yet they do not rage or howl in the
process of venting these emotions. One could argue that there is the
potential within the text for playing Hermione, Paulina and others as
characters who have loud and wild outbursts in lamenting their
misfortune. However, in this production even the passionate speeches are
tinged with restraint. To lose one's cool is to lose the element of
control which these characters are struggling for. By keeping their
behaviour within the bounds of acceptability they retain their sense
of dignity, and gain our respect.
The performances of Yolanda Vazquez as Hermione, and Penelope Beaumont as
Paulina, are outstanding, and for me these characters were the highlight
of the whole production. They are portrayed as extremely strong women -
intellectually, emotionally and morally - and their appearance sweeps all
else away. Paulina, especially, resonates power, and I wanted to take
her off the stage and send her out into the world to set right some of
its problems. Paul Jesson as Leontes manages to play up the element of
ridiculousness within the king’s jealous behaviour, whilst retaining his
sense of regality. We do have some light entertainment, mainly in the
form of Autolycus (Colin Hurley), who in good Globe tradition gets the
audience to join in with his roguish singing.
The costuming of this piece is rich with velvets and jewelled buttons,
tall hats and wide ruffs, whilst in contrast the set design is kept
extremely simple, with a backdrop of a tapestry-style curtain showing a
16th century engraving called ‘The Triumph of Time’. Much is made of the
music in this production, which, as ever, is delightful, with
period-style instruments used throughout.
The Winter’s Tale is often described as a play of two halves, and as the
action moves from tragedy to comedy, urban to rural, courtly to rustic,
one might expect a major change in the pace and energy of the piece.
However, under the direction of John Dove this transition is made
slight, and the more serious atmosphere retained throughout the comic
scenes, just as the tragic scenes are laced through with comedy. If it
seems that certain scenes lack a sense of impetuousness, then we can
also say that the gravitas of this production allows the threads of the
play to be pulled together and ultimately creates a pleasing symmetry
I came away from this production unjustified in my fears, and although I
cannot claim to be converted in my opinion of the text itself, this
time I left the theatre feeling thoroughly un-swindled.
This review was originally published on The Shakespeare Revue.