A Moving And Irreverent The Winter's Tale: Review

The Winter's Tale, San Wanamaker Playhouse ★★★★☆

By Savannah Whaley Last edited 32 months ago
A Moving And Irreverent The Winter's Tale: Review The Winter's Tale, San Wanamaker Playhouse 4
Rachael Stirling (Hermione) in The Winter's Tale at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photos by Marc Brenner.

Michael Longhurst’s rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most enchanting plays manages to be both deeply moving and hilariously irreverent in equal measure.

This is a play of two halves, and Longhurst’s production successfully captures the starkly contrasted worlds of a fraught, jealousy-ridden Sicilia, and Bohemia’s pastoral paradise. John Light plays a commanding Leontes, whose unfounded jealousy leads to the loss of his queen and children.

Longhurst’s Sicilia is a brutal one. Rachael Stirling, as Hermione, shifts captivatingly from dignified queen to desperately wronged prisoner. Her performance in the court scene — as she deals with news of the casting-out of her newborn daughter, continuing suspicion from her husband, and finally the death of her son — is highly moving.  

Bohemia’s bewitching laughter and revelry provides relief from the pain and punishment of Leontes’s kingdom. The touching young love story, played out between Florizel (Steffan Donelly), son of king Polixenes, and Perdita (Tia Bannon) — the adopted daughter of a sheep-shearer, who found her as a newborn abandoned on the shores of the kingdom — is romantically, joyfully reckless, and provides a stark contrast to the fraught tension of Leontes and Hermione’s relationship in the first act.

Singing, thieving, seductive street peddler Autolycus (James Garnon) narrowly avoids being overbearing. His brazen behaviour — sipping beer, serenading a chosen few, and even stealing a pair of glasses for a scene — draws the biggest laughs from the audience.

This is a production full of remarkable moments, and a disarming self-awareness when the plot is at its most fantastical. The candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is highly atmospheric, and the simple staging allows the intricacy of the action to take place unheeded. Longhurst has captured the magic of The Winter’s Tale in a production that will not fail to delight audiences.

The Winter’s Tale runs at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Bankside, until 22 April. Tickets £15/£48/£10 standing/£62 premium. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 07 February 2016

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