The Winter’s Tale – Globe Theatre, London

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Blanche McIntyre

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

It may seem ironic that the Globe should launch its new production of The Winter’s Tale on one of the hottest evenings of the year, but anachronisms are rife in this, Shakespeare’s split personality play.

In temperatures that help the banks of the Thames to pass for Sicily, the tale unfolds. King Leontes suspects his heavily pregnant Queen, Hermione, of infidelity with Polixenes (Oliver Ryan), visiting King of Bohemia, and his uncontrollable jealousy leads him to a path of destruction. The play, believed to be one of Shakespeare’s later works, begins as a tragedy and then, suddenly, it isn’t. There is a sense that the Bard stopped halfway through writing it and told himself that he had done Othello already and needed to move in a different direction, towards reconciliation and forgiveness, in the final two acts.

Finding the range to make the transition from raging tyrant to kindly patriarch, it is the strength of Will Keen’s performance as Leontes that binds Blanche McIntyre’s free-flowing production together. He gives us a study of the loneliness that comes with power, pacing around agitatedly in self-torment.  The large pillars in James Perkins’ palatial stage design give him a place to skulk behind as his irrational fears fester and then they isolate him from the voices of reason in his court once he has embarked on his destructive course. After time has elapsed, Keen reappears, his voice and demeanour now those of a broken man, stripped of all traces of regality and seeking redemption where he once sought revenge.

Priyanga Burford’s Hermione is no whimpering victim. She is unusually forceful, a natural society hostess who suggests that she sees herself as her King’s equal. In this version of the play, Leontes’ jealousy could be caused just as much by her eclipsing him as by the possibility of her betraying him. Sirine Saba makes a fiery, but warm-hearted Paulina, Hermione’s loyal protector.

16 years elapse between the end of Act III and the beginning of Act IV and the play takes its time to awaken from what could have been a long sleep. McIntyre throws colourful, high-spirited comedy at scenes in rural Bohemia and, aided by excellent work from Annette Badland as the Old Shepherd and Jordan Metcalfe as his/her son, she just about pulls the play through its sticky patch. Not quite a tragedy, not quite a comedy, The Winter’s Tale turns into a sweet romance, when Perdita (Norah Lopez-Holden) the daughter that Leontes has never seen, falls for Florizel (Luke MacGregor), the lost son of Polixenes.

As the play draws to its close, the challenge facing McIntyre is to make the preposterous first plausible and then moving. She shows a delicate touch, sealing a revival which, if not exactly seasonal, is certainly assured.

Runs until 14 October 2018 | Image: Marc Brenner

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