Anyone who knows their Shakespeare and loves The Winter’s Tale will be aware that “a sad tale’s best for winter”.
For this critic, that tale is all the sadder because the first Leontes he ever saw was the incomparable Sir Antony Sher, who sadly passed at the end of last year within a few days of the greatest musical genius of the era, Stephen Sondheim.
Whichever way you look at it, this winter, like the last, has been filled with far too many sad tales, whether of illness and death amongst loved ones or financial and social difficulties caused either directly or indirectly by the pandemic.
This column has contained far too many words of despair about the industry that we all love and therefore that is not going to be the topic this week.
Instead, as the days begin to lengthen and there are hints of better things to come with the sun shining down from clear blue skies, perhaps it is time to look forward to a much-desired spring awakening and recall what it is that makes us give up so much time and money in pursuit of discovering the perfect performance in the perfect creation.
That RSC production of The Winter’s Tale, directed by the leading actor’s future husband Gregory Doran was right up there with the very best and may have taken place in the last millennium but its power and pathos remain vividly in the memory to this day.
The future theatrical knight gave the kind of performance that, at this range, can literally be described as unforgettable, managing not only to portray his character as a hate figure but also one who deserves great sympathy.
Of course, it helps that The Winter’s Tale contains one of the greatest coups de théâtre in all of William Shakespeare’s lavish canon, fit to compete with anything imagined by any other playwright too.
It is the combination of factors encapsulated in the previous paragraphs, magnified by attendance with other devotees at a live performance, that most of us are always hoping to discover on every visit to a theatre, however large or small.
It can come from magnificent renditions of familiar classics like Hamlet, epic comedies such as One Man, Two Guvnors, sweeping dramas like Angels in America or top-quality musicals, perhaps Sweeney Todd or so many others created by Stephen Sondheim.
One of the joys of theatregoing is the fact that every visitor enjoys themselves (or occasionally gets bored rigid) in a different way. Some remember classic moments, others are enthralled by stories, while yet more might be dazzled by the acting, bowled over by the directing or, in rarer cases, excited by the choreography, the lighting or perhaps just the opportunity to sit in a glorious building singing along with familiar, cheesy jukebox hits.
At the moment, we are petrified by uncertainty, which is threatening to destroy theatre productions and could also severely damage companies and individuals’ livelihoods.
If past virus patterns are anything to go by, the next couple of months might be uncomfortable, but when the sun returns with a vengeance and we enjoy the Easter holidays, that could be a moment to get serious about booking top shows and perhaps even considering a visit to a far-flung town or city to enjoy what it has to offer on and off stage.
The idea of seeing a leading actor portraying Hamlet or King Lear already seems thrilling, while attending a classic musical or a piece of new writing of any kind should also make the mouth water after such a long period of enforced abstinence and fear.
Although it is now less fashionable, this critic would also love to see a new play about the crisis of masculinity. The one that he has in mind will focus unerringly on the issues currently faced by that awesome triumvirate of Boris Johnson, Prince Andrew and Novak Djokovic.
Before that arrives, stay safe and enjoy your theatre, whether in person, online or in your dreams.