Monday, 22 February 2016

FOUR STAR review for The Winter's Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

THE season of Shakespeare’s late plays continues at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with a glorious production of The Winter’s Tale.
It is not an easy play – there is plenty going on with lots of twists and turns within the story, a whole range of emotions and there are also an array of themes including rage, love, jealousy, child death, forgiveness and abandonment.
It is also a play of two halves – the first being full of sadness and terrible things happening to the characters and the second much more lighthearted and romantic.
But bathed in the rich glow of the many candles that light this small and intimate Bankside theatre the play comes alive beautifully.
Being so close to the stage and the action you can really feel the claustrophobic and toxic atmosphere of the court of Leontes, King of Sicilia during the first half.
The rage and indignation of the King who convinces himself his pregnant wife Hermione has been having an affair with Polixenes, King of Bohemia is plain to see.
One of the most frightening scenes was that of the famous scene when Antigonus exits “pursued by a bear”. The theatre suddenly goes dark and you hear even if you can’t see.
But in the second half the stage comes alive with the happiness and fun which surrounds the young Perdita and her love Florizel.
The ending is of course more about forgiveness and love – with Leontes seeking forgiveness from his wronged wife and the union of Florizel and Perdita.
The cast is superb with a great performance from John Light as Leontes who we can just about forgive for being so irrational and deranged in his belief that his wife has been unfaithful.
Elsewhere Rachael Stirling is stunning as Hermione and Niamh Cusack as Paulina is refreshingly fiery and determined.
But for me the night belonged to James Garnon as the opportunist pickpocket and bounder Autolycus. With numerous comic asides to the audience and jumping over the seats to join us at various intervals his performance was light, bright and a joy to watch.

The Winter’s Tale is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until April 22. Tickets from £10. Visit for full listings.  

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