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It perhaps goes without saying – although it shall be said here – that Shakespeare’s Globe is the preeminent playhouse for staging the Bard. The spectacle of the outdoor arena, together with its boldly intrusive stage, where cheap tickets go to those happy to rest their elbows on its lip, lends an atmosphere unobtainable to more formal venues. As such, where other directors are lulled into adorning their productions with evermore fantastical sets – see the National Theatre – those at the Globe tend to let the grandeur of Wannamaker’s reimagining of a 16th-century playhouse do most of the work. The Globe speaks for itself, as-it-were, which results in the centre stage being graciously left vacant for that which we all desire to see or, rather, hear: William’s words.
Blanche McIntyre’s The Winter’s Tale happily follows suit. From the moment Leontes tricks himself into thinking his wife, Hermione, has been unfaithful, this dizzying tragi-comedy is allowed an unobstructed space in which its players can freely act out its emotional tumult. Props are few, and the subtle change in costume from the first half – an ancient-garbed Sicilia – to the second – a suited and booted Bohemia – mean that the eye is rarely distracted. There is, of course, some hullaballoo when it comes to Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction – ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ – and the theatrical unveiling of Hermione’s (living) statue. However, the delicateness with which designer James Perkins and costume supervisor Natalie Pryce treat this play is a testament to a production team aligned in vision, the success of which this review can hardly do justice.
Most importantly, the actors – caught in a play that bewilderingly shifts tones at the halfway point – shine. Will Keen, cast as the jealous Leontes, captivates as he sweats and spits his way through tongue-twisters that verbalise his torment. He plays a king on the edge of insanity, and although his performance might to some have seemed overwrought, it is your writer’s opinion that he displayed a unique sensitivity to the near-fatal masochism of Shakespeare’s lead. Hermione, played by Priyanga Burford, was equally mesmerising. Although a smaller part, she foiled the king’s madness with a grace and poise which, when forcefully arrested while pregnant, elicited audible gasps from the packed Globe. The roguish Autolycus brought to life by Becci Gemmell, was a supreme delight. Bellowing out her song of thievery, Gemmell makes an unforgettable mark on the show; her pick-pocketing shenanigans – which see her deftly uncoat an unassuming passerby – left the audience in full-bellied guffaws.
Amid these triumphant performances, however, there is one which stole the crown. Sirine Saba’s Paulina was otherworldly. In a play that sees fathers brought to their knees by jealousy and guilt, and cowardly servants bending to their demands, Paulina is a shining light of truth and forgiveness – forgiveness being perhaps the play’s overarching concern. Saba provided an athletic version of this figure of feminine power. Her remonstrances with the enfeebled Leontes were not only indicative of the Bard’s belief in the potential for women to renew broken men but directly speak to contemporary events occurring across the pond. In short, her performance alone is reason enough to buy tickets.
The Winter’s Tale is a humane play about the sum of human experience. Written during Shakespeare’s later years, when regrets were undoubtedly being balanced with hopes for redemption – embodied in his children – it works to acknowledge that society is necessarily somewhat tyrannical, but that by adopting responsibility and always speaking truth, you can dispel some of that tyranny with love. McIntyre and her steadfast team ultimately deliver this message with unrivalled aplomb. Get thee to it.
As always, the Dukes was a delightfully welcoming venue. For more of their Stage on Screen Events, head to their website: www.dukes-lancaster.org