Precious winners all, in the bard’s chilly weather yarn


The Winters Tale, caption in picture

DO not harm this child! Paulina (Sirine Saba) takes the play by the heart, while Jordan Metcalfe as the clown looks on. Photograph by Marc Brenner, courtesy The Financial Times.

WITHIN THE FIRST fifteen minutes of Blanche McIntyre’s version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, you understand why the king of Sicily, Leontes (Will Keen) suspects the king of Bohemia, Polixenes (Oliver Ryan) for “bed swerving” with his beautiful wife, Hermione (Priyanga Burford). The electricity between this couple is palpable, which ups the credibility stakes of this beautiful though not frequently performed romantic tale, where almost everyone lives happily ever after. It is available for free until 31 May 2020 on the youtube channel of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Indeed, Burford is an electric performer all round in this astonishingly fine, intelligent and above all, modern, work — as happy wife, shocked prisoner, reawakened statue. Keen, too embraces the complexities of being a man fraught with emotional fluctuations coupled with his own understanding of his own importance, with charisma and muscle. But it is not only the give and take between the main characters in this supremely excellent work that will unequivocally maintain your focus for almost three hours. Beautiful cameos such as Rose Wardlaw’s Mammilus, the hapless youngster who dies either at the whim of the oracle or of grief, conveys the sweet bravado of a small rich boy with magnificence. To say nothing of the old Shepherd (Annette Badlands) with a good heart and aspirations for passive income. And of course there is a clown. Played by Jordan Metcalfe, this voice of conscience is quite understated, in dress and presence, but nevertheless an important yardstick.

But then, there is Paulina (Sirine Saba), a noblewoman of Sicily and something of a proto-feminist of the era. Like the Marjorie character in Jojo Moyes’s splendid 2019 novel The Giver of Stars she’s a tough gal: beautiful but fierce, armed with savvy and social know-how, she doesn’t rest until her point is made. Mistress of not a little magic when it comes to turning the rebuke of base stone into life, she’s cast with magnificent gusto.

This tale of jealousy and forgiveness, death and reincarnation, new life and new love is complex and satisfyingly balanced. It’s not a very popular work on stage or in the classroom, and with the credibility and coherence of this production, it’s difficult to understand why. This is a tale that skitters between fact and fantasy, showing up the tyrant in a domestic context for what he is. It’s as much about the pain of injustice inflicted as it is about the difficulty of apologies made.

With an innocent babe in the crux of the issue and a support team of peasants that give this creature her life, it’s a work that plugs into the archetypal trajectory informing old fairy tales and how they can twist and turn to bite you unsuspectingly in the belly. As a production, it is virtually flawless and with the song and music, dance and gaiety punctuating this work of semi-tragedy, you will feel transported into the 15th century. And it will be a transportation you will not forget in a hurry. But be warned: you may need to watch this beautiful piece more than once. It is 2:41 hours of pure magic.

  • The Winter’s Tale is written by William Shakespeare and directed by Blanche McIntyre for the Globe Theatre in London in 2018. It is performed by Annette Badland, Zora Bishop, Adrian Bower, Priyanga Burford, Becci Gemmel, Will Keen, Norah Lopez-Holden, Luke MacGregor, Jordan Metcalfe, Oliver Ryan, Sirine Saba, Howard Ward and Rose Wardlaw, with live music by Robert Millett (percussion), Matt Bacon (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin), Kevin Street (accordion), Sophie Barber (violin) and Sophie Creaner (bass clarinet, clarinet, saxophone) and creative input by Robert Millett (musical direction), James Perkins (production design), Stephen Warbeck (composer), Coral Messam (movement), Ian Russell (director of the filmed version), Sarah Case (voice), Karishma Balani (casting) and Natalie Pryce (costumes). It is available on demand for free until 31 May 2020, on  Shakespeare’s Globe’s youtube channel.

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