tue 23/07/2024

The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's Globe review - a chilly tale for a time of austerity | reviews, news & interviews

The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's Globe review - a chilly tale for a time of austerity

The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's Globe review - a chilly tale for a time of austerity

Blanche McIntyre finds coherence in this uneven play but at what cost?

To mingle friendship far: Hermione (Priyanga Burford) and Polixenes (Oliver Ryan) accidentally spark Leontes' jealousyMarc Brenner

“A sad tale’s best for winter,” Leontes’ young son Mamillius tells us. By that logic the current summer heatwave should be bringing us a Winter’s Tale overflowing with joy – the songs of Bohemia drowning out the shouted accusations and desperate howls of Sicilia. But that’s not what director Blanche McIntyre has in mind.

From Will Keen’s Leontes, twitching and ticking with violence, to the bare stage and makeshift revels of Bohemia, this is a decidedly chilly take on Shakespeare’s mercurial late play. Even the bear is an austerity predator – nothing more than a painted banner, barely enough flesh on this visual joke to raise a laugh.

And perhaps that’s as well; there is nothing, after all, in a story about despotic male power over the female body that is particularly funny in the current political climate. Sobriety suits this tricky play, the work’s astonishing verbal richness filling the stern dramatic outline with colour and texture. But so much of the dialogue was lost here, whether swallowed in Keen’s muttered, ungenerous delivery or obliterated by passing aeroplanes. A Winter’s Tale that might have engrossed at the Donmar – introspective, conversational, lightly worn – simply couldn’t hold its audience in the Globe, particularly a matinee crowd lacking even the natural frame of darkness.The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's GlobeDesigner James Perkins does little to help matters, leaving the vast Globe stage all but empty. His only statement (and one seemingly undeveloped in McIntyre’s production) is to articulate the differences between oppressive Sicilia and rustic Bohemia as an awkward collision of historical dress and contemporary casual. It makes its point, but then so does the text itself, and this half-hearted visual statement adds nothing.

But this unpromising frame holds some fine performances. Chief among them, finding an energy, pace and scale of emotion that dwarfs all around her, is Sirine Saba’s Paulina (pictured above), verbally and dramatically explosive. The play’s living compass – a “bloody difficult woman” before her time – blazes with moral conviction in a landscape of uncertainty.The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's GlobeThere’s a fruitful ambiguity to Oliver Ryan’s Polixenes, whose thin skin of geniality is punctured so ferociously during the shearing feast, and deliciously down-to-earth courting from Norah Lopez-Holden’s sparky Perdita and Luke MacGregor’s Florizel (pictured above). Priyanga Burford’s Hermione commands an awkwardly blocked courtroom scene and brings interesting ambiguity to her return, while Becci Gemmell makes trickster Autolycus’s tireless scheming almost bearable.

In McIntyre’s hands The Winter’s Tale’s tensions between contrasting halves feel less pronounced than usual. But coherence comes at the cost of that blissful shock of warmth, the surprise of joy that shivers through after the interval. This is a dark Tale for dark times, one that removes some of the play’s most interesting difficulties and fails to offer much to replace them.


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