The Winter’s Tale

William Shakespeare
Globe Theatre
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe

The Winter’s Tale Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Winter’s Tale Credit: Tristram Kenton
Leontes (Sergo Vares) Credit: Tristram Kenton

The three distinct parts of Sean Holmes's modern dress production of The Winter’s Tale lasting over three hours are most comfortable in the second part after the interval when the audience is taken from the Wanamaker to the main theatre where everyone is seated either in the lower gallery or at a bench seat in the yard for the knockabout comedy of Bohemia.

Although it's a bit chilly outside, the jokes, the songs and the dancing of more than eighteen cast members help warm the spectators of events taking place on what looks like a ramshackle film set.

In contrast, the more seriously delivered first section covering nearly half the play is overshadowed by the too-quick, unshaded, jealous rage of Leontes (Sergo Vares). It is difficult even to imagine he has any relationship with his wife Hermione (Bea Segura) apart from jealousy.

There are visually distracting moments that for many in the audience were a puzzle, such as the opening family meal where everybody wears a napkin on their head. There is also no obvious reason why, as Leontes becomes angrier, he takes off most of his clothes and continues to arrange a murder and put his wife on trial wearing just his socks and underwear. Is it meant to indicate he is mad and that the entire court is so familiar with his antics that they don’t look remotely surprised?

The one visual idea that did appeal to the audience was the arrival of the non-speaking Bear in a suit as a symbol of death, to collect Mamillius, the young son of Leontes.

That Bear will appear again in the second section to chase Antigonus (Colm Gormley), the servant of Leontes who has been tasked with leaving the King’s newly born daughter Perdita on the shore of Bohemia. The Bear's killer pursues his prey around much of the theatre, generating gales of laughter from the audience.

Easy humour and well-performed songs are the engines of this second section. The shepherd with an Irish accent who finds and adopts the baby tells us his two best sheep are Britney and Beyoncé.

His comical conversations with his son (Samuel Creasy) are always amusing, but it's the comedic talents of Ed Gaughan as the rogue Autolycus that really sets the audience on fire, getting them to join in the singing with a chorus of the word “whoop” while a crowd of players dances across the yard.

The third section, sixteen years after Perditia’s adoption, takes us back to the Wanamaker where Leontes is still in his underwear and socks. He is watching blank slide projections on the back wall when he is given the news of his visitors from Bohemia.

There are many moments in this play that could have been tragic and very moving, but the audience never has any reason to care what happens to the characters beyond the next joke and there are few of them in the first and third sections.

There is nothing serious to bother the mind beyond understanding what the director is trying to do. Such potential themes as the abuse of women and state power are forgotten, but the attempt to replace everything with comic turns is only partially successful.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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