The Winter's Tale

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe
(2005)

One can almost hear the fanfares, as traditionalists finally have their day at Shakespeare's Globe. Master of Play, John Dove's staging of The Winter's Tale could hardly be more traditional.

The stunningly beautiful costumes (seen at their best on young lovers clad in white with slashes and swirls of scarlet) designed by Jenny Tiramani are Elizabethan. So are rarely-seen or heard musical instruments including a sackbut, a rackett, a dulcian, a crumhorn and a hurdy-gurdy and there is very little cross-dressing - for the Globe at least.

Following the directors' versions of The Tempest and Pericles, which were rather fun but owed far too little to the Bard, The Winter's Tale is pure Shakespeare and the text is allowed to dominate throughout the two and three-quarter hours.

Paul Jesson is Leontes, a King of Sicilia who seemingly has everything going for him. A beautiful, clubbable wife Hermione, played by Yolanda Vazquez, about to deliver him a second child and a precociously intelligent son, Liana Weafer's Mamillius.

Suddenly at a celebration given in honour of another king and almost a brother, Peter Forbes as Polixenes of Bohemia, you can almost see a switch go off in Leontes' head and we move into the sad tale for winter that the young prince had predicted.

There is a moment at which Leontes appears to see some ghost and nothing will ever be the same, as he accuses his innocent wife of adultery.

Jesson plays Leontes as more a bemused rather than an angry (imagined) cuckold. Similarly, in the scene in which his wife is tried and then latterly cleared, she is a picture of calmness rather than wounded indignation.

The woman who shines as Leontes becomes increasingly irrational, at least in part because of a fine performance from Penelope Beaumont, is the good and brave (if rather bombastic) Paulina.

The scenes in Bohemia sixteen years later are particularly distinguished by an amusing performance from Sam Alexander as the young shepherd who unwittingly becomes brother to a princess and, inevitably, Colin Hurley has fun playing a particularly grubby and scruffy Autolycus.

One of the highlights of the evening is the scene in which Polixenes reveals his identity to the young lovers, Florizel and Perdita. This is the first step on a road that leads to happiness all round, following a suitably moving final scene of multiple reconciliation.

John Dove provides a very solid reading of The Winter's Tale and if there is any criticism, it is that whenever possible, he has driven out strong emotional performances in favour of a relative rationality and quiet.

Many will argue that this is what Shakespeare's Globe should be all about, classic stagings of classic plays. It will be interesting to see whether new director Dominic Dromgoole experiments to as great an extent as Mark Rylance has in recent seasons.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher