The Winter’s Tale is very much a tale of two halves. The first set in Sicilia the “jealous tyrant” King Leontes (Will Keen), has an almighty fall from grace when he accuses his wife Hermione (Priyanga Burford) of an affair with Polixenes (Oliver Ryan), resulting in her and their son Mamillius’ (Rose Wardlaw) death, and then extradites his new-born daughter. It’s cold, harsh, and unfair – absolutely everything that could go wrong, does. Then we have the second half set in lush, pastoral Bohemia, 16 years on. Leontes’ long lost daughter, Perdita (Norah Lopez-Holden), is living a merry and simple life as a shepherds daughter, and is sickeningly in love with Prince Florizel (Luke MacGregor), son of Polixenes, and is soon reunited with her repentant father and the big misunderstanding is resolved. Everything that could go right does. It’s classic Shakespeare – a jealous King, unfair incarceration, exile to a far-away land, a few disguises, followed by a grand reconciliation and a big happy ending (except for Mamillius, of course, R.I.P).
The last time I was at The Globe was last summer, when then-Artistic Director Emma Rice was dividing opinions with her trendy and modern staging. This production however, directed by Blanche McIntyre, lacks the same imagination. The Globe is usually a fantastic atmosphere, a merry old time, enchanting and enthralling. But sadly this production, particularly the first act, just completely lacked that Renaissance magic. The second half in dreamy Bohemia had more of the whimsy we’re accustomed to, with Jordan Metcalfe and Annette Badland as the loveable and simple shepherds, and Lopez-Holden breathing youth into Perdita’s ramblings about flowers.
Keen is stuttering and red-faced as Leontes, and the mania neurosis he gives him is almost too much. Sirine Saba is a breath of fresh air as practical and loyal Paulina, and Burford gives a dignified but therefore slightly subdued Hermione. Moments of heartbreak, like her son being torn from her arms, are watered down by her composure. Becci Gemmell’s Autolycus was amusing but lacked lustre, and wasn’t the scene-stealer it has the potential to be.
The Winter’s Tale is a story packed with emotional turbulence. But in this production, the highs aren’t as high, and the lows don’t fulfil their full potential to devastate and sadden. The very little set design there is does nothing for the piece, and the poster of a snarling bear that limply unfolds in place of that well-known stage direction is laughable, like a toy gun that shoots a banner reading “BANG!” Altogether, it makes for a half-hearted portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s later romance/comedies. Excellently acted, but at a slog of three hours long, this isn’t The Globe at its best.
The Winter’s Tale is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 14 October
Photo: Marc Brenner