Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ contains theatre’s only famous stage direction: ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’. And it’s not even the weirdest thing about this very weird play. It’s next up in the Globe’s series of free streaming productions, in a performance from the theatre in 2018, directed by Blanche McIntyre.
‘The Winter’s Tale’ is one of Shakespeare’s ‘late’ plays, one of his ‘problem’ plays. The ‘problem’ being that towards the end of his career, the Bard of Avon went a bit odd, and sort of ditched traditional categories like comedy, tragedy and history, which had previously defined his works.
So there are sparring kings, a paternity suit, abandoned babies, someone pretending to be a statue and some shepherds. At one point a poor sap has to come on stage and announce that he is Time, and that 16 years have passed, and Act 4 contains a lot of gardening. Basically, it’s a right old mish-mash of conflicting styles and genres, which together create a strange and uncanny work that offers plenty of interpretive scope for theatre makers. If Wes Anderson was ever going to do a Shakespeare play – and I really hope he does one day – it would be ‘The Winter’s Tale’. Oh, and it’s set in ‘Sicilia’ and then Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), which for Shakespeare’s purposes has a coastline. Who knew?
Our review from 2018 praised this Globe production for the way it copes with all this nonsense: ‘[It] tackles these idiosyncrasies head-on, offering us a clashing vision of twelfth-century Sicilia – flowing Grecian gowns, golden pantaloons – and a Bohemia whose inhabitants, in patterned leggings and glittery make-up, look less like shepherds and more like stray Lovebox attendees.’ We went on to say: ‘McIntyre’s take on the play’s famous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” is also characteristically original, and she draws some good, naturalistic performances from her cast. Sirine Saba particularly shines as the brave, truth-telling Paulina, along with Priyanga Burford’s Hermione, proud and defiant in the face of her husband’s cruelty. The women are the moral lynchpins here.’
So if you’re not quite ready for a trip to the beach IRL, maybe check out sunny Bohemia tonight.
‘The Winter’s Tale’ is streaming for free from 7pm BST tonight (Mon May 18) on the Globe’s YouTube channel. It’s available for two weeks.
See what else is coming up in the programme of free-to-stream plays from Shakespeare’s Globe.
Take a look at the National Theatre’s mega-popular At Home free streaming series.