Late Romances Bardathon Weekend: The Winter’s Tale

In recent years, I’ve grown especially partial to ideas and works that, by whatever means and through whichever combinations, exhibit and embody a perfect balance. While perceptions of “balance” (and indeed, “perfection”) may be rather subjective, I’d like to think some fundamentals apply, such as the prevalence of opposition in relatively equal proportions. And I’ve always thought The Winter’s Tale a prime example of this balance, with its two halves containing contrasting themes, language, characters, and locations, which, when seen as a whole, are revealed as gloriously complementary.

All this preamble is to foreground my fangirly gushing for the Globe’s performance of The Winter’s Tale under the direction of Michael Longhurst, which, overall, is the best production of the play I’ve seen so far. Leontes (John Light) always bugged me, but here, his explosive reactions to the “perceived” affair between his wife and BFF had me fearful for their lives. Hermione (Rachael Stirling) was exquisite, and, in contrast to Leontes’ rage, her dignified sotte voce deliveries had my heart bursting with simultaneous agony and admiration. I was also very much taken by Camillo (Fergal McElherron), whose devotion was not only beautifully steadfast, but also reminded me of the faithful Pisanio in Cymbeline. In fact, The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline share similar themes of jealousy, wronged women, and (undeserved?) loyalty, which were all made more apparent by watching one after the other.

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The indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse also lent itself to some stunning theatricality: during the island/”bear” scene, all the candles were extinguished, and the audience was left in utter darkness for a few moments before Antigonus (David Yelland) lit his single candle, the flicking light doing all sorts of glorious, magical things that made my heart pound. All in all, the play’s first half was dark dark dark (in all senses), and I felt such overwhelming relief when it was over (especially when all the shouting began to border excess), knowing there would be brighter times ahead.

And brighter times, indeed! While the second half was infinitely lighter in tone, on the whole, I wouldn’t say it balanced the dark dark darkness of the first half–but that’s where Autolycus (James Garnon) comes in, and stole the show (and possibly my heart). I’ve written a little about James Garnon before, but it was during The Winter’s Tale that I realised he might very well have become my favourite Renaissance theatre actor. The final scene was also quite lovely (though I’ve yet to find a rendition to match the breathtaking stillness of a Bell Shakespeare production I attended a few years back), and I certainly left the theatre with that wondrous mixture of awe, humility, love, and gratitude, because wow, Shakespeare, and wow, awesome productions.

While I wrapped myself up in coat, scarf, gloves, and hat in preparation for a brief meander outside (and search for dinner) for the two hours between The Winter’s Tale and Pericles this evening, I saw James Garnon in my vicinity. A little surprised–especially since at that very moment, I was thinking of his super awesomeness–I approached him, and gave him my (somewhat rambly and fangirly compliments). Before we parted, he mentioned he’s also in Pericles–a wondrous day, indeed.

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