‘The Winter’s Tale’ review – Exuberant production employs both Globe stages in theatrical first


For the first time, both the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Globe Theatre are used in a single play for the Globe’s The Winter’s Tale, and when the results are this magnificent, let it not be the last.

Beginning in Sicilia, we meet the incredulous and explosive King Leontes (Sergo Vares) suspects pregnant wife Hermione (Bea Segura) of having an affair with friend Polixenes (John Lightbody). They eat at a dinner table, around which Leontes and Polixenes eventually skirt around like some game of musical chairs, but director Sean Holmes manages to convey a mood and message from something as minimal as a table. In the Playhouse’s Sicilia, it’s a metaphor for a tyrannical Leontes chaotic clamouring for rationality and authority. In the Globe’s metallic Bohemia, it’s the centrepiece for jubilant celebration.

When travelling to and from Bohemia, Leontes and Paulina (an assertive and acerbic performance from Nadine Higgin) remain in situ on stage, waiting for us to leave and return. It’s a subtle implication that while we are elsewhere, life in Sicilia goes on, and it’s magical. Another curious creative decision lies in composer Laura Moody’s musical direction. In Sicilia, uneven and screeching strings suggest an unease and apprehension akin to a Leontes on the edge. The cacophony of clanging in Bohemia, meanwhile, allude to a purely chaotic and reckless abandon in the pursuit of joy.

Indeed, the most hilarious moments occur in the Globe’s space, where we follow Leontes’ abandoned daughter Perdita (Before I Was A Bear’s Jacoba Williams) – not least of all because it’s in these scenes where we are introduced to an unbelievably funny assortment of characters. Samuel Creasey and Colm Gormley play the mullet-sporting, Irish Young and Old Shepherds respectively with an endearing naïvety, while Ed Gaughan gives a standout performance as Autocyclus – a Cockney geezer who is absurd with his peppering of pop culture references at every available opportunity, from Brexit jokes to fleeting mentions of Britney and Beyoncé.

Across the whole production there is a perfect balance of the somber and the silly. Even the iconic stage direction “exit pursued by a bear” (perhaps the most recognisable part of this particular tale from the Bard, which sees Antigonus – also played by Gormley – meet his end), is deployed in a way which manages to be both anticlimactic and hyperbolic. The bear is no more than an actor in a mask, calmly walking after Antigonus rather than anything particularly dramatic. This can’t be said for Gormley, who dashes and squeals around the Globe set to avoid his character’s inevitable demise.

Just over a mighty three hours in length (including a 20 minute interval and short five minute pause to get us back into the Playhouse), this Winter’s Tale is masterful in making use of both of the Globe’s auditoria to strike two completely different atmospheres and tones. It’s perfectly performed and spectacularly staged.

The Winter’s Tale is now playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 16 April.

Audio-described performances will take place on 19 March and 12 April, relaxed performances are scheduled for 19 March and 5 April, and a second captioned performance will take place on 14 April.

Production Images: Tristram Kenton.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Winter’s Tale’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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