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‘The Winter’s Tale’ review

  • Theatre, Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare's Globe, South Bank
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2023
Photo: Tristram Kenton

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Sean Holmes’s magical ‘Winter’s Tale’ totally pulls off its daring use of both Globe theatres

Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is a play set in two different worlds, that always calls for two contrasting stagings.

But in Sean Holmes’s new version, Sicilia and Bohemia have grown into polarised, physical mammoths. For the first time, the Globe’s indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and outdoor Globe Theatre are used in conjunction to really give scope to Shakespeare’s vision. The effect is tectonic and exhilarating, breathing new life into the centuries-old text.

It is a staging that brings out the tension and tonal differences in Shakespeare’s words. But, Grace Smart is too artful a designer to focus only on the two locations’ differences; she sets each scene around long tables to softly bring out their parallels. 

In the claustrophobia of the opening Sicilia scenes, Sergo Vares’s neurotic ruler Leontes’s jealousy bubbles from nowhere until it overflows. He never leaves the Sam Wanamaker’s exquisite dining room set, upon which he loses all sense of decorum, stripping down to his underwear, lying so broken on the table that his descent into envy veers to the edge of insanity. He gobbles food until it drips, messily, down his body, while his once good friend Polixenes (played intoxicatingly by John Lightbody) dances round him trying to deconstruct his sudden resentment. Lit by candlelight, it becomes all the more sinister.

Soon though, we are off outside to carefree rural Bohemia. With raucous screams, frolics and singing, we’re introduced to the farmers who burst from the audience and onto the stage. As the Young Shepherd, Samuel Creasly brings in goofiness and fun to the previously buttoned-up action. Then, in a pink, cake-like dress, Jacoba Williams makes Leontes’s exiled daughter Perdita a vision of strength. Untamed and bewitching in her new life, she steers her people into celebration. Bohemia is now her kingdom, and she shines.

Holmes’s production has a knack of making Shakespeare’s language feel afresh. Con artist Autoclycus is played so naturally by Ed Gaughan that he could have stepped right off the London streets. There’s an effort to involve us in dance and chorus too. Holmes grasps the implausibility in the play and embraces it. Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction – ‘exit pursued by a bear’, becomes a menacing, inevitable and ever-present fear. Flashes of a bear head appear and disappear, trailing the lengthy, noisy slaughter that marks the play’s dividing line.

There’s a sense of rising magic, until we reach the point when Leontes’s wronged wife Hermione miraculously turns from stone to flesh. Many productions choose not to make her petrification literal, but Holmes’s suspends our disbelief – if only for a second, as we fall for this production’s wonder. 

Written by
Anya Ryan


Shakespeare's Globe
New Globe Walk
View Website
Tube: Blackfriars/Mansion House/London Bridge
£5-£62. Runs 3hr 10min

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