I live in a small, pretty, very English, Twinings-tea-and-green-wellies market town with a centre consisting of three streets, so you can imagine what London feels like to me. I hit Kings Cross on the 26th of last month just in time for the rush hour. It took 15 minutes to get through the barriers and onto the Northern Line, where I and some 15,000 others boarded the tube to London Bridge. Imagine trying to preserve some sense of detachment, some notion of personal space, during a game of Twister. I kept my gaze downcast and avoided, as I thought, any direct physical contact with anyone else in my centimetre or so of circumambient space. 'Listen, mate, seriously, I don't want your arse in my face' snarled a beardy, aggressive little troll whom I had not noticed was sitting behind me. I thought, I've had far better faces in my arse, sunshine, and would prefer not to have my nose in this bloke's earhole, but what do you want me to fucking do?
Eventually I got to East Dulwich where the three of us had far too much wine and a delicious lamb curry and so to bed.
So anyway, The Winter's Tale. I've got all the Globe Theatre DVDs but this was my first time there in the flesh. We had drinks in a lovely bar (The Swan) served by a very tasty young barman (don't know his name, sorry) and a had a fabulous view of bepinked sunset clouds and the buildings across the river, the Walkie Talkie, the Gherkin, the Stiffy and all those oddly shaped edifices lighting up as the sun sank. The theatre is hellishly uncomfortable, though, with bus shelter benches instead of seats and I felt forced to adopt a tight, compact posture so as not to kick the back of the woman in front of me, tip my pint over her head or lurch forward and plunge three storeys into the yard, something more suited to Titus Andronicus.
I also wanted to be closer to the stage to fully appreciate Will Keen as Leontes. He was quiet, tense, tentative, discovering something inside himself that appalled him and not knowing what to do with it or what it would do to him. Maybe the people leaning against the stage in the yard felt the tension radiate from him more strongly that I did up on the third tier. Or maybe I had the advantage and they could only see his ankles.
Sirine Saba was brilliant as Paulina, fearless and truthful in polite, frightened, tight-arsed Sicilia, but I don't know why she had to wear a robe that looked like it had been knocked up from the matching curtains and bedspread I chose for my bedroom back in 1974 when I was fifteen. She looked much classier in the second half in black. Was this intended to show her as older and wiser, counselor to Leontes rather than accuser? This has just occurred to me and I may be wrong. I can't otherwise explain the naffness of her costume.
The notorious stage direction 'exit, pursued by a bear' was underwhelmingly realised: a flapping piece of cloth with a crude picture of a bear's snout and jaws on it unfurled from the flies and as Antigonus left the stage, a door frame fell over. Anyone unfamiliar with the story wouldn't have had a clue what was supposed to have happened. I've no idea how this could have been done more convincingly, but then I'm not the one getting paid to stage it.
Now in the final scene, you can't be asking: 'OK, why do Hermione and Paulina collude for 16 years to let Leontes think Hermione is dead, and how come nobody got suspicious and how the hell do they justify treating a guilt-ridden man so fucking shittily anyway? Let him stew for a year or two by all means, but then put him out of his misery.' This is not playing the game. A winter's tale was a fire-side yarn spun to beguile a long, dark evening: question it too closely and you kill it dead. In the final scene, Leontes is introduced by Paulina to what he thinks is an astonishingly lifelike statue of his adored wife who died 16 years before from the shock of his rejection of her. Imagine his emotions: he has had only his fading memories and now she seems to be standing before him again: 'Would you not deem it breathed,' he gasps, 'and that those veins did verily bear blood?' This scene, where Hermione, posing as a statue, descends from her plinth to embrace her husband and daughter after a sixteen year separation, is one that always reduces me to a gibbering wreck when I read it, and I really resented the way the actors allowed Leontes to look a bit of a fool here. His several references to the life-like appearance of the 'statue' elicited knowing giggles where I wanted gobsmacked awe, but I still had tears rolling down my face at the end, so I suppose I'll let them off.
Overall I really enjoyed the show. I'm conscious when watching productions of Shakespeare that I usually have very little to compare them with, and delivery and business I'm taking innocent delight in may well seem trite and hackneyed to someone who's seen or read the play dozens of times, but I suppose in that case I'm getting my money's worth and the more experienced playgoer isn't.
'Tis but three days since I said I probably wouldn't update this blog again. Shows how wrong you can be.